Melting glaciers blamed for subtle slowing of Earth’s rotation

WASHINGTON The melting of glaciers caused by the world's rising temperatures appears to be causing a slight slowing of the Earth's rotation in another illustration of the far-reaching impact of global climate change, scientists said on Friday.

The driving force behind the modest but discernible changes in the Earth's rotation measured by satellites and astronomical methods is a global sea level rise fueled by an influx of meltwater into the oceans from glaciers, the researchers said.

"Because glaciers are at high latitudes, when they melt they redistribute water from these high latitudes towards lower latitudes, and like a figure skater who moves his or her arms away from their body, this acts to slow the rotation rate of the Earth," Harvard University geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica said.

The movement of ice and meltwater is also causing a slight migration of the Earth's axis, or north pole, in a phenomenon known as "polar wander," the researchers said.

"Imagine a figure skater who doesn't stick their arms straight out but rather sticks one at one angle and the other out at another angle. The figure skater will begin to wobble back and forth. This is the same thing as polar motion," Mitrovica said.

The research looked at the changes in the planet's rotation and axis in light of the world's sea level rise in the 20th century as a result of increasing global temperatures.

The melting of the ice sheets and the rise in sea levels moved the planet's rotation axis, or north pole, at rates of less than a centimeter per year, Mitrovica said. This melting slowed the Earth's rotation and increased the duration of a day by about a thousandth of a second over the 20th century, Mitrovica said.

"These are small effects," but are another indication of the profound impact of human-induced climate change on the planet, Mitrovica said. The observed rotation slowdown does not pose a danger to the planet, he said.

If polar ice sheets melt at higher rates this century, as experts forecast them to do, the impact on Earth's rotation will grow, Mitrovica said.

The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Science’s ‘Breakthrough’ winners earn over $21 million in prizes

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF.Academia just turned a little more glitzy for a select group of scientists.

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner on Sunday handed out seven Breakthrough Prizes, the award for scientific accomplishment he created three years ago alongside technology giants including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 23andme founder Anne Wojcicki and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The prizes are worth $3 million, around three times the sum a Nobel Prize winner receives.

For one group of Breakthrough recipients, the honor will carry more prestige than cash. Some 1370 physicists are being honored as part of a single $3 million prize for their work confirming the theory of neutrino oscillation, a phenomenon in quantum mechanics.

Seven team leaders will split two-thirds of the prize. That leaves $1 million to split among the others, or around $700 to each physicist.

"I would love to give $3 million to each one, but we're not there yet," Milner said in an interview on Friday. Increasingly, he added, breakthroughs are made through vast consortiums rather than a handful of scientists working in relative isolation, raising the chances of such shared prizes in future.

Five prizes went to researchers in life sciences for advances in areas ranging from optogenetics to sequencing of ancient genomes. A prize in mathematics went to a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for work in low dimensional topology and geometric group theory.

Eight scientists early in their mathematics and physics careers won awards of $100,000.

Milner has set his sights on giving the sciences the same cultural resonance as sports or entertainment, but on Friday, he said it was too early to see if his work was having any effect. He pointed to the ceremony's broadcast on a major U.S. network, Fox, for the first time as a sign things were moving in the right direction.

A onetime physics PhD student in Moscow who dropped out to move to the United States in 1990, Milner has backed some of the world’s biggest technology companies, including Facebook.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of the hit TV series “Family Guy,” is hosted the black-tie ceremony, held at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Hollywood celebrities like pop star Christina Aguilera hobnobbed with Silicon Valley celebrities like Theranos chief Elizabeth Holmes, whose blood-testing company has come under fire in recent weeks. News Corp.O> chief executive Rupert Murdoch sat next to Gen. David Petraeus.

Singer Pharrell Williams serenaded the audience before dinner, created by chef Thomas Keller. Other celebrities milling about included actress Hilary Swank and cast members of the TV show "Silicon Valley."

Earlier this year, Milner said he would spend $100 million looking for intelligent life in space by searching for radio and light signals.

(This story corrects paragraph 3 to physicists instead of physicians.)

(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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Tennis study serves up the science of sliding

Engineers at the University of Sheffield have teamed up with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to measure the effects of friction between tennis court surfaces and footwear in a bid to ensure the world's top players can play their natural game and slide in a controlled manner, with a reduced risk of injury.

Sliding is a key skill on clay courts, mastered by the likes of one-time 'King of Clay' Rafael Nadal, who enjoyed years of success in the French Open at Roland Garros. But the fast pace of the modern tennis game means that top players are also using slipping and sliding as a technique to move more quickly around grass and hard surface courts to reach the ball.

"In all sports athletes tend to push the interactions to a greater degree. And in elite tennis we're seeing that more players are sliding on hard courts than they used to. So the kind of movements that they're carrying out on hard courts would be something that you might have seen on clay courts before," said Dr Matt Carré from the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The increase in sliding among top players could be a natural reaction to more powerful racket technology, according to mechanical engineering PhD student Daniel Ura.

"The speed of the game has increased a lot because the players are serving faster than years before; it could be because of the materials of the racquets or could be the strings as well. But I think it's a necessity of the players to reach the ball faster," Ura told Reuters.

Working in collaboration with the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the world governing body of tennis, the researchers have conducted experiments to measure the amount of friction between different playing surfaces and shoes. Carré said their laboratory testing rig mechanically replicates the friction between the player, the shoe and the surface.

This includes parameters like the surface type, player force, sliding shoe orientation, outsole temperature and speed during critical player movements, he said.

"The end goal is to actually develop a system that allows us to better understand tennis courts and how they perform and to monitor the tennis courts. In order to do that we need to understand a number of parameters including; how the shoe changes, how the properties of the shoe affect that interaction, how the properties of the tennis courts affect that, and also other factors like temperature and the actual players loading themselves, so how they slide or move around on the courts," he said.

Their aim is to develop a portable hand-held device that could measure the friction of any tennis court and allow players and coaches to adjust their game plan. This could lead to a 'sliding scale' for surfaces that grades them according to their propensity for sliding.

While it will help the ITF more easily regulate tennis courts around the world, the research could also aid tennis shoe and surface manufacturers in designing new footwear and tennis courts to maximize a professional player's ability to control their sliding.

Ura likened it to Formula 1 motor racing, where the choice of car tire is crucial, depending on the condition of the track.

"I think it will become more like a Formula 1 race probably, when depending on the weather conditions or depending - in this case - on the surface conditions, I think the shoes are going to play an important role during a match. So I think that's probably the future of the shoes, they're going to start to customize them according to the surface properties," he said.

"So I think when we're able to find the optimum friction or the optimum parameters between the shoes and the surfaces, then the shoe and the surface manufacturers are going to be very interested to try to improve their shoes (and) their surfaces to get the best performance."

Monsanto to Mexico honey farmers: Our soya seeds not to blame for woes

CHICAGO/MEXICO CITYMonsanto Co on Friday denied that plantings of its genetically modified soybeans have impacted bees, led to deforestation or caused damage to the honey production industry in two Mexican states.

Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a move to allow the planting of genetically modified soya seeds in the southern Mexican states of Campeche and Yucatan, arguing that indigenous communities that had fought the move should be consulted before it was approved.

Honey producers in the two states as well as the neighboring state of Quintana Roo had protested against the genetically modified soybean permits, arguing they created a contamination risks for their produce.

Monsanto, which was on the court docket's list of interested parties in the case, said in a statement Wednesday it respected the court's decision and would wait to see the full text of the ruling.

On Friday, in response to questions from Reuters, Monsanto denied any link between its soybean seeds and honey production woes.

"We do not accept accusations that put us as responsible for deforestation and illegal logging in the municipality of Hopelchén, Campeche, or any place of the Republic, because our work is rigidly attached to the guidelines provided by law," the company said in a statement.

The court said on Wednesday that the five justices had voted unanimously to grant an injunction against Mexico's agriculture ministry SAGARPA, which had given permission for the plantings. The full text of the decision is still pending.

A group of organizations including Greenpeace, which supported the injunction against the permits, hailed the ruling as "historic" and called for authorities to guarantee the right to previous consultation in the future.

Monsanto said in the statement that in the Yucatan Peninsula during the period in question, an estimated 44,000 hectares (108,726 acres) of soybeans were planted, of which 13,000 were from Monsanto seeds.

In the municipality of Hopelchen, Monsanto's soybeans were sown in 4,261 hectares of the 15,000 planted, the company said.

The company blamed problems in the Mexican honey sector on increasing prices and production volumes among Mexico's honey producers.

"There is not evidence that the exports of honey are affected by GM soybeans," the company said.

(Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago and Tomas Sarmiento in Mexico City; Editing by Christian Plumb)

Monsanto to Mexico honey farmers: Our soya seeds not to blame for woes

CHICAGO/MEXICO CITYMonsanto Co on Friday denied that plantings of its genetically modified soybeans have impacted bees, led to deforestation or caused damage to the honey production industry in two Mexican states.

Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a move to allow the planting of genetically modified soya seeds in the southern Mexican states of Campeche and Yucatan, arguing that indigenous communities that had fought the move should be consulted before it was approved.

Honey producers in the two states as well as the neighboring state of Quintana Roo had protested against the genetically modified soybean permits, arguing they created a contamination risks for their produce.

Monsanto, which was on the court docket's list of interested parties in the case, said in a statement Wednesday it respected the court's decision and would wait to see the full text of the ruling.

On Friday, in response to questions from Reuters, Monsanto denied any link between its soybean seeds and honey production woes.

"We do not accept accusations that put us as responsible for deforestation and illegal logging in the municipality of Hopelchén, Campeche, or any place of the Republic, because our work is rigidly attached to the guidelines provided by law," the company said in a statement.

The court said on Wednesday that the five justices had voted unanimously to grant an injunction against Mexico's agriculture ministry SAGARPA, which had given permission for the plantings. The full text of the decision is still pending.

A group of organizations including Greenpeace, which supported the injunction against the permits, hailed the ruling as "historic" and called for authorities to guarantee the right to previous consultation in the future.

Monsanto said in the statement that in the Yucatan Peninsula during the period in question, an estimated 44,000 hectares (108,726 acres) of soybeans were planted, of which 13,000 were from Monsanto seeds.

In the municipality of Hopelchen, Monsanto's soybeans were sown in 4,261 hectares of the 15,000 planted, the company said.

The company blamed problems in the Mexican honey sector on increasing prices and production volumes among Mexico's honey producers.

"There is not evidence that the exports of honey are affected by GM soybeans," the company said.

(Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago and Tomas Sarmiento in Mexico City; Editing by Christian Plumb)

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Britain’s first astronaut for 24 years hopes to inspire Mars interest

LONDONThe man who will become the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station said on Friday he hoped his mission would inspire young Britons to one day journey to Mars.

Tim Peake, 43, a former army major, will blast off on a six-month mission for the European Space Agency (ESA) in December, the first Briton to go into space since Helen Sharman traveled on a Soviet spacecraft for eight days in 1991.

"After a gap of 24 years since Helen Sharman flew to the Mir space station, the Union (Jack) flag is going to be flown and worn in space once again," Peake told reporters.

"What that means is that there's nothing to stop the schoolkids in Great Britain today from being amongst the first men and women to set on foot on Mars in the future."

Peake said he would be carrying out a series of scientific experiments, including some medical research where he would be a "human guinea pig".

The Briton, selected as an astronaut in 2009, will launch from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the mission titled Principia after Isaac Newton’s ground-breaking Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which describes the principal laws of motion and gravity.

Britain originally opted out of the European program for human space flight but decided to reverse its decision in 2012.

The space station is a laboratory in which an international crew of six people live and work while traveling at a speed of five miles per second, orbiting Earth every 90 minutes.

It was launched in 1998 and has been continuously occupied since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 people from 15 countries have visited.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

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