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 Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

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: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's Fermi catches gamma-ray flashes from tropical storms

25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers invent process to make sustainable rubber, plastics

25.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Transfecting cells gently – the LZH presents a GNOME prototype at the Labvolution 2017

25.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>