Thailand Cave Rescue: The Science Behind Thailand’s Unstable Caves

This Monday, July 2, 2018, photo released by Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center, shows the boys and their soccer coach as they were found in a partially flooded cave, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, Thailand. The 12 boys and coach found after 10 days are mostly in stable medical condition and have received high-protein liquid food, officials said Tuesday, though it is not known when they will be able to go home. (Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center via AP)The Thailand cave rescue is underway with 8 of the twelve boys (4 boys and coach are still stuck in the cave). As expert divers and Thai Navy SEALS extract the remaining individuals they continue to race against depleting oxygen levels and Thailand’s relentless rainy season.Here we take a look at why Thailand’s caves are so dangerous, the geology and hydrology of this specific cave and why they remain so unstable. With over 1,000 experts on site working around the clock, the cave’s rock formation provides both a blessing and a curse.To provide a bit of background to Thailand’s geology and the rocks surrounding the Tham Luang cave. The Tham Luang cave is believed to be a six-mile-long network of channels carved into the Doi Nang Non mountain range. The primary rock surrounding the cave is limestone with a mixture of other sedimentary rocks. In fact, a good portion of Thailand is composed of limestone, which forms the spectacular columns and cliffs along Thailand’s famous beaches.

Limestone cliffs in Railay Beach, Thailand

The reason for such dramatic structures is not due to faulting, earthquakes, tectonism, etc. that is a core driver in other parts of the world. It is water that creates both the stunning karst structures in coastal Thailand and complex cave systems in northern Thailand. My colleague David Bressan has an excellent article and diagram of the cave’s hydrology.You may already know, but rain is naturally slightly acidic. This is because as raindrops fall, they react slightly with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to produce carbonic acid: H2O + CO2 = H2CO3. This reaction leads to an average rainwater pH of 5.6 (7 is neutral). The slightly acidic rainwater then reacts with limestone, made up of calcium carbonate and the same material used in chalk.As the slightly acidic rain falls onto limestone (CaCO3) the carbonic acid (H2CO3) dissolves away the limestone to produce calcium and bicarbonate: CaCO3 + H2CO3 = Ca+2 + 2HCO-3.This is the chemical reaction that dissolved away 6 miles of the Tham Luang cave. The end result creates a network of channels and pathways in the limestone rock. This has been both a positive and a negative for the Thai boys and soccer coach trapped in the cave. Because rainwater has eroded away the cave and created cracks in the above mountain, water can quickly percolate down into the cave. This is what ultimately trapped the team deep inside the cave. On the other hand, the presence of cracks and channels has also helped to supply vital oxygen to the cave. Unfortunately, the speed at which water percolates through the cracks is much faster than air and thus oxygen levels cannot be replenished fast enough to counterbalance the soccer team’s use of oxygen.

Thai soldiers relay electric cable deep into the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai on June 26, 2018 during a rescue operation for a missing children’s football team and their coach. – Desperate parents led a prayer ceremony outside a flooded cave in northern Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as military rescue divers packing food rations resumed their search on June 26. (LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)

Geology and hydrology play a vital role in both the formation of these caves, how they respond to Thailand’s rainy season, and the transfer of oxygen from the surface deep into the cave. As rescuers continue to extract the remaining boys and coach, hydrologists and geologists are keenly watching and studying the cave. The rescue effort is multidisciplinary and international and is a prime example of how understanding an entire system and working with people from different backgrounds and experiences is optimal in leading to one core mission: to get the team out safely.Trevor Nace is a PhD geologist, founder of Science Trends, Forbes contributor, and explorer. Follow his journey @trevornace.Source: Forbes


Scientists Are Hunting for Meteorite Fragments Off the Coast of Washington

In March, a meteorite crashed into the ocean a few miles off the coast of Washington, and scientists want it.
By Avery Thompson Jul 3, 2018

A few months ago, a small meteorite entered the atmosphere and plunged into the Pacific Ocean about 16 miles off the coast of Washington. The meteorite broke apart and now sits in pieces at the bottom of the ocean, Now, one group is working to find those pieces and bring them back to the surface.

Finding meteor fragments scattered on the seafloor might seem like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but the scientists participating in this hunt have a few advantages. For one, meteorite fragments tend to be almost black, making them easier to pick out against the lighter-colored seafloor.

But perhaps the biggest advantage is the presence of a scientific survey ship, the Nautilus. The Nautilus was already in the region as part of a research mission and, with some input from NASA and scientists from the University of Washington and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, the researchers will take some time out of their schedule to look for meteorites.

Using remote-operated submarines, the researchers on board the Nautilus will survey the region where the meteorite went down and attempt to find as many meteorite samples as they can. Any samples they find will wind up at the Smithsonian Institution.

The hunt is also being livestreamed, and you can watch it on YouTube or on the Nautilus website.

Source: Digital Trends

‘Oumuamua may be a comet, not an asteroid

The object’s path through the solar system can’t be explained only by gravitational pull


ROCK RETHINK  A new study suggests that the interstellar traveler ‘Oumuamua (illustrated) is a comet, not an asteroid like scientists had proposed.

The solar system’s first known interstellar visitor may not be what we thought.

Evidence is growing that the object known as ‘Oumuamua, which careened into the solar system from parts unknown before veering off, is a comet, not an asteroid.

Unlike asteroids, comets are icy and tend to be surrounded by a halo of gas and dust. Astronomers saw no signs of a halo around the approximately 400-meter-long ‘Oumuamua. So the interloper, discovered in October 2017, was dubbed an asteroid. But some scientists questioned that conclusion: The object has a reddish surface, suggestive of a comet with an outer crust shielding an icy heart.

Now, in a paper published online June 27 in Nature, researchers report that the path ‘Oumuamua took on its whirlwind tour of the solar system can’t be explained just by the gravitational tugs from the sun and other celestial bodies. Some other force must also have been acting on the object. That force could be a result of spewing gas propelling ‘Oumuamua, the scientists say, strengthening the case for a comet.

Source: Science News

Venus’s thick atmosphere speeds up the planet’s spin

PUSH AND PULL  New research has shown that Venus’ thick atmosphere, shown here in an image from the Japanese space agency’s Akatsuki spacecraft, can speed up the planet’s rotation.

Time is out of joint on Venus. The planet’s thick air, which spins much faster than the solid globe, may push against the flanks of mountains and change Venus’ rotation rate.

Computer simulations show that the thick Venusian atmosphere, whipping around the planet at 100 meters per second, exerts enough push against a mountain on one side and suction on the other side to speed the planet’s rotation rate by about two minutes each Venus day, according to a study in Nature Geoscience June 18.

That’s not much, considering that the planet rotates just once every 243 Earth days. By comparison, Venus’ atmosphere rotates about once every four Earth days. Precise measurements of the planet’s rotation rate have varied by about seven minutes, however. The push and pull of the air over the mountains could help explain the mismatch, with some other force — possibly the gravitational influence of the sun — slowing the planet’s spin back down.

DRAW BACK The motion of Venus’ atmosphere over mountains on the planet’s surface raises a bow-shaped wave that stretches from pole to pole in this image from Akatsuki.

The simulations by UCLA planetary scientist Thomas Navarro and colleagues are the first to account for a 10,000-kilometer-long wave in Venus’ cloud tops, spotted in 2015 by the Japanese space agency’s Akatsuki spacecraft (SN: 2/18/17, p. 5). Similar waves are launched into the atmosphere on Earth when air flows over a mountain, but they normally dissipate quickly as opposing winds break them up. Venus’ atmosphere rotates so much faster than the planet and in such a uniform direction that the waves could persist for a long time.

“This work is very interesting,” says planetary scientist Tetsuya Fukuhara of Rikkyo University in Tokyo, one of the researchers who discovered the atmosphere wave. The work helps explain where the wave comes from and addresses how Venus’ surface features affect the atmosphere, “which is the most important issue in the Venus atmospheric science.”

More detailed measurements of Venus’ rotation, possibly taken with a future lander(SN: 3/3/18, p. 14), could eventually help reveal details of Venus’ interior, such as the size of its core.

“Venus is the closest thing to Earth that we know of,” Navarro says, and yet its hot, thick, toxic atmosphere makes it utterly alien. “We’d like to know what’s inside.”

Source: Science News

What Makes Ice Cream So Good? Science!

UW Frozen Dessert Center Studies Physical Properties Of Ice Cream

When it’s piled on top of a waffle cone, in your hand on a hot summer day, ice cream seems like a simple treat.

It’s actually far from it. So much so, that the University of Wisconsin-Madison has an entire program devoted to the study of frozen desserts.

“They’ve gotta taste right, they’ve gotta melt right, they’ve gotta stand up on a piece of apple pie,” said Scott Rankin, a professor of food science at UW-Madison. “Ice cream, you may not think of it, but it’s a very, very complicated food.”

For instance, water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. But ice cream doesn’t start freezing until far below that.

“As you and I enjoy it from our home freezer it’s usually around 5 degrees Fahrenheit. But it’s still malleable, it’s still flexible,” Rankin said. “But how can it be if water is freezing at 32 Fahrenheit?”

As Rankin explains it, ice cream freezes at a colder temperature because of freezing point depressants in the ingredients: notably, sugar.

In addition, ice cream is technically a foam. It’s dependent on the air bubbles inside it, and that affects the freezing point.

“Air has a unique functional property, it gives it a texture,” Rankin said.

Throw in thousands of different ice cream flavors, and that can complicate things even more. So at UW-Madison, in coordination with the Babcock Hall dairy plant on campus, scientists study how to manipulate the food and how to make it work properly.

The ingredients in the Babcock Ice Cream created on campus — first developed in 1951— are actually quite simple, Rankin said, mostly because of the age of the recipe. It’s cream, dry milk powder, cane sugar, a gelatin stabilizer, plus added ingredients depending on the flavor.

But the research can get specific. For instance, Ph.D. student and research assistant Dieyckson Freire studies the physical properties of melted ice cream.

She waits for it to get warm because ice cream depends on a host of structural elements to hold it up: fat clusters, air bubbles and ice crystals, for instance. But the ice crystals can get in the way of testing.

“When we study the ice cream to do the instrumental analysis, the presence of the ice crystals in the ice cream can hide or minimize some of the other structural elements,” Freire said, “Which is as important as the ice crystals in the ice cream.”

Those ice crystals are unique, because they are formed in special ice cream freezers during the manufacturing process. They look like tiny snowflakes, and they’re key to keeping ice cream solid but malleable.

Ever noticed how if you let ice cream melt, then stick it back in the freezer, it’s not the same? That’s because those ice crystals don’t come back.

“Once they are gone, you can’t recreate them in your own freezer,” Rankin said. “This is trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, you can’t really go down that path anymore. It’s icy, it’s hard, it’s lost some of its native ice structure.”

So the next time that pint starts to melt? Just eat the whole thing, Freire said.

Source:Wisconsin Public Radio

Cure for a common turtle cancer takes a lesson from human cancers


A one-two punch can knock out a common cancer in sea turtles. Just as some human cancers are best treated first by surgical removal of the tumor and then by chemotherapy, surgery and treatment with the anticancer drug fluorouracil reduced the reoccurrence of the sometimes deadly turtle cancer fibropapilloma from 60% to 18%, researchers report today in Communications Biology.

The cancer often leads to rapidly growing tumors on the mouth, in the eyes, and on the flippers that interfer with eating, swimming, and other functions—at times so much that the animals ultimately die. Biologists in Florida first noticed the disease in green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas, pictured) more than a century ago and by the 1990s had learned it was spread by a herpeslike virus. Today, this cancer is found all over the world, particularly in warmer places.

When researchers working at a sea turtle hospital in Florida compared gene activity in tumors with gene activity in healthy green sea turtle tissue, they discovered that the tumors thrive thanks to a network of proteins that is very similar to the network of proteins that promote a human skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma. Hence, they tried anticancer drugs on the turtles.

The comparison showed that the virus itself is inactive once the tumor gets started and surprisingly, genes that control the formation of nerve cells are also very active in the cancerous tissue, they note.

Just as sunlight is a risk factor for this human skin cancer, sunlight seems to increase the chances for this the turtle disease, the researchers report. Other environmental factors, such as pollution, likely come into play as well, they note, as the tumors are rarely seen in animals living in pristine environments, even though those animals carry the virus.

The incidence of these tumors has increased 10-fold over the past decade, but the disease doesn’t seem to be making much of a dent in the green sea turtle’s recovery from near extinction. Thanks to regulations to reduce the number of turtles caught for food or trapped in fishing gear, their numbers have grown exponentially in recent years.

source: Science Magazine

Controls on seed dormancy

Seeds of the small mustard plant Arabidopsis thaliana in their pod

Herbivores and an inopportune cold snap can destroy fragile plant seedlings. Plants control the dormancy of their seeds in anticipation of more favorable growth conditions. Chen and Penfield analyzed the molecular controls on seed dormancy in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.Two genes and an antisense RNA, known from the process of vernalization, integrate ambient temperature to control seed dormancy via their opposing configurations.


Plants integrate seasonal signals, including temperature and day length, to optimize the timing of developmental transitions. Seasonal sensing requires the activity of two proteins, FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC) and FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT), that control certain developmental transitions in plants. During reproductive development, the mother plant uses FLC and FT to modulate progeny seed dormancy in response to temperature. We found that for regulation of seed dormancy, FLC and FT function in opposite configuration to how those same genes control time to flowering. For seed dormancy, FT regulates seed dormancy through FLC gene expression and regulates chromatin state by activating antisense FLC transcription. Thus, in Arabidopsis the same genes controlled in opposite format regulate flowering time and seed dormancy in response to the temperature changes that characterize seasons.

Source: ScienceMagazine

Bacteria in a pill may one day track your body’s chemistry

In the latest twist on an edible sensor that could one day monitor disease, scientists have created a pill-size device that can detect bleeding deep inside a pig’s digestive tract—and relay that information via a wireless signal to a cellphone. If researchers can modify the sensor to pick up other chemicals—and shrink the pill—they could one day create a multipurpose readout of gut health.

To make their sensor, engineers and biologists turned to a bacterium commonly sold as a probiotic in Europe. They genetically engineered it to detect the blood chemical heme by injecting several genes: one that triggers in the presence of heme, and another that makes the cell glow when triggered—enough to light up a detector and produce a wireless signal.

They packaged the 44 million copies of bacteria—along with a battery, light detector, and other electronics—into 10-millimeter-by-30-millimeter pills, which they fed to three pigs. Only pigs with blood in their guts triggered the sensor, the researchers report today in Science.

Other devices have already been created to detect gases in the gut and remotely control sensors using magnets. By picking up on the body’s chemicals and containing several versions of the bacterium, a “super” sensor could one day provide information about cancer, ulcers, or other conditions, the researchers notet. Such a supersensor could be a long time coming, other researchers say. For now, the team is trying to shrink this pill by two-thirds by reducing the power demands and the battery size.

Source: Science Magazine.

YSF Committee 2018/2019

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YSF Committee 2018/2019

May we proudly present the newly appointed YSF Management Team 2018/2019 (pictured above). Do show support to YSF in achieving our vision to prosper and share the love and passion for science amongst the young generation.

Please do not hesitate to approach any member of the committee if you wish to write an article/quiz or contribute ideas for our Science For Thought newsletter, or if you are interested in giving a talk. Also, we are always open to accept any suggestions or comments on improvement!

Check out more info regarding our members via PTET YSF18

50 years ago, starving tumors of oxygen proposed as weapon in cancer fight


Starve the tumor, not the cell

Animal experiments demonstrate for the first time that transplanted tumors release a chemical into the host’s bloodstream that causes the host to produce blood vessels to supply the tumor.… If such a factor can be identified in human cancers … it might be possible to prevent the vascularization of tumors. Since tumors above a certain small size require a blood supply to live, they might by this method be starved to death. — Science News, May 4, 1968


By the 1990s, starving tumors had become a focus of cancer research. Several drugs available today limit a tumor’s blood supply. But the approach can actually drive some cancer cells to proliferate, researchers have found. For those cancers, scientists have proposed treatments that open up tumors’ gnarled blood vessels, letting more oxygen through. Boosting oxygen may thwart some cancer cell defenses and promote blood flow — allowing chemotherapy drugs and immune cells deeper access to tumors.

source: Sciencenews