Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Tools for forecasting the catastrophes of the future

04.10.2006
Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, epidemics and plagues of insects are able to cause terrible destruction at astonishing speed. The effects of these catastrophes will become ever more intense unless we curb the emission of pollutants that cause global warming. In spite of the gravity of the situation there are still major gaps in our ability to predict the evolution of these events.

At the Department of Ecology of the University of Barcelona, Salvador Pueyo has developed some new instruments that may provide new insights into their characterization. In its 22 September issue, the journal Science published a technical comment in which Pueyo and Roger Jovani of the Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC) apply these new methods to a re-analysis of data from an article on coffee plantation pests published in Science the previous February, which had used mainstream techniques. The application of the new methodology brings about significant changes in the results.

The ecologist Ramon Margalef noted that catastrophic events of many different types reveal the same hidden order. Take the case of wildland fires in Catalonia. Roughly, for every three fires of a given size, there is one that is twice as large, and for every three fires as large as this one, there is one two times larger, and so on, up to a maximum size. This is called a power law. It follows that the great majority of fires are tiny, but 0.43% of fires burn 75% of the affected area. Currently, our understanding of how power laws arise is severely limited. At the Department of Ecology at the UB, Salvador Pueyo has been developing a statistical procedure able to analyse the data.

Scale insects are common pests in several kinds of crops. These bizarre insects live by sticking to plants and sucking their sap. There are species of ants that act as shepherds for scale insects, protecting them from their predators and “milking” them to obtain a nutritive fluid. In a paper published in Science, ecologists John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto of the University of Michigan used mainstream methods to analyse the variability in scale insect densities in different coffee plants in a coffee plantation in Chiapas. They concluded that scale insect densities conform to a power law, but that the power law breaks down under the action of ants. They also gave an explanation for the power law.

Pueyo and Jovani re-analysed Vandermeer and Perfecto’s data with new procedures, which give a much clearer image of the power law. Pueyo and Jovani confirmed that scale insect densities do indeed display a power law, but rejected the supposition that the law breaks down in the presence of ants. The effect of the ants is not qualitative: it is just quantitative. Without ants, for every ten plants with a given scale insect density there is one with twice that density. With ants, for every four plants with a given density we find one with twice that density. In addition, the maximum density is ten times larger in the latter case. Even more importantly, the data themselves refute the mechanism for the origin of the power law postulated by Vandermeer and Perfecto. Pueyo and Jovani propose a more credible mechanism, which may well help improve the management of this pest.

Pueyo stresses that there is nothing wrong in Vandermeer and Perfecto’s paper. He considers that their starting point is imaginative and that the line of research is particularly interesting. The only problem is that the authors used the same type of tools that everybody uses. Pueyo and Jovani’s study is not meant as a criticism of the work of two specific authors, but as a demonstration of the potential that the new methods open up for a general improvement in this kind of research.

In another article published in Science last year other researchers from the UB’s Department of Ecology showed that of all Europe’s regions the Mediterranean is the one that is most vulnerable to climate change. Scientists forecast an intensification of wildland fires and other catastrophic events. Therefore, it is important to increase our ability to obtain projections for these phenomena. For Pueyo, “current projections provide more than enough data for designing decisive action to avert disasters. The Kyoto Protocol is just a minor step; surprisingly, Spain is one of the major beneficiaries of the treaty and one of the countries that is furthest away from fulfilling it”.

Rosa Martínez | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ub.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht International network connects experimental research in European waters
21.03.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

nachricht World Water Day 2017: It doesn’t Always Have to Be Drinking Water – Using Wastewater as a Resource
17.03.2017 | ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>