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David Goggins
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Bryan Cranston
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Liv Boeree
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Amaryllis Fox
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Where Is the Plastic in the Ocean Coming From? Try Asia.

It turns out most of the ocean's plastic is coming from a single corner of the world.

NOAA

The Ocean Conservancy estimates that are roughly 150 million metric tons of discarded plastic floating around the world's oceans, with an additional 8 million metric tons being added every year. PRI calls this climate change's "apocalyptic twin."

That's like dumping one New York City garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day for an entire year! - Ocean Conservancy

60% of all seabirds and 100% of sea turtles who've been examined contain plastic. They eat it, thinking it's food. Obviously, they derive no nutrition from the plastic, and it can be damaging to their health, or fatal.

There are five massive “gyres," or vortices, of mostly plastic garbage in the oceans, the most famous being the Great Pacific Garbage patch. (#1 in the illustration below.)

The five trash gyres in the world's oceans (DMTHOTH/THE OCEAN CLEANUP)

Capt. Charles Moore told National Geographic what it looked like in 2003:

“Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments."

And things have gotten much worse since then. Various technologies have been proposed for cleaning up the mess, and people have even made artwork from the flotsam found on beaches, as a means of raising awareness of the problem in a way that's less terrifying than it certainly could be.

(WASHEDASHORE.ORG)

Some of the ocean trash is cargo that's fallen off off boats, but most of it is just stray plastic trash. So where is all this stuff coming from?

A study by Dutch firm The Ocean Cleanup and published in Nature on June 7, 2017, found that a full 86% of all the plastics in the ocean come from the rivers of a single, albeit large, continent: Asia.

Three of the four top sources of plastic are Asian countries: China, Indonesia, and Myanmar. (Nigeria's #4.)

Of the world's top 20 plastic-carrying rivers, seven are in China, sending about two thirds of all the river plastic into the sea, according to Quartz. The worst river is the Yangtze, which goes through Shanghai — it contributes some 22,046 metric tons of plastic to the ocean every year. It's nasty stuff, too: Two ships unloaded 110 metric tons of waste including needles and plastic tubes into the Yangtze just last December. India's Ganges is Number 2, followed by China's Xi River.

Per person, Asians generate much less waste than we Western consumers do. The main issue is manufacturing, and China, in particular is a powerhouse in that regard. Quartz cites a report by Plastics Europe which asserts that in 2015, China manufactured 74.7 metric tons of plastics.

Still, before casting a stink-eye at China too quickly, it's worth recognizing just who it is that finances their plastic production. Who buys all the plastic products the country manufactures?That would be us.

And part of the problem is economic, since residents of wealthier nations have their trash picked up and removed to landfills that at least keep the trash out of the ocean. In poorer communities, such as those along the long Asian coastline, there is no such option. Trash ends up on the ground or in the sea.

Aena, 12, in her village (Muara Angke) by Jakarta. Shoreline is smothered by plastic filth. This is what your backyard can look like if you're one of the 3.5 billion humans who don't receive trash pick-up services. #Indonesia

A post shared by @bkkapologist on Oct 3, 2016 at 12:33am PDT

Ocean Conservancy estimates it would take about $4.5 billion yearly to overhaul the insufficient disposal infrastructure of China alone. There's no clear source of the kind of money, and that's just China in any event.

The only real solution — and you can judge for yourself how really real it is —says oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, “If you produce plastic, it's assured that it will eventually end up in the sea. So we have to stop producing plastic."

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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