HAMNET Report 22nd May 2022

A follow-up report from KwaZulu Natal this week, in expectation of a severe cold front due to strike the Eastern parts of the country this weekend, says that 88 persons are still missing after last month’s devastating rains and flooding.

eNCA news said on Friday that disaster teams in KwaZulu-Natal had been placed on high alert this weekend as the province received a severe weather warning.

KZN premier Sihle Zikalala appealed to residents to exercise caution.

“The provincial government has received a severe weather warning notice from the South African Weather Services. We are advised that if KZN receives an additional 20 millimetres of rain, there is a potential for flooding as the ground may still be saturated following the recent heavy rain,” Zikalala said.

“We have been advised to expect snowfall and freezing temperatures. We urge our fellow citizens to be aware, especially those who may be in flood-prone areas.”

This is the result of a cold front that struck the Western Cape on Wednesday. Rainfall wasn’t particularly heavy, but the cold Antarctic air coming up from the south behind the front has caused night-time temperatures to fall to single figures here in the Western Cape, and will no doubt be responsible for the snow which we can expect on high ground this weekend. So be careful, folks, and prepare for severe weather wherever you are.

I like it when existing infrastructure turns out to have other unexpected valuable uses. A team of researchers with the National Physical Laboratory and the University of Edinburgh, Google and Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica developed a way to use existing undersea fibre cables to detect seismic events. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their test project involving a cable spanning the Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists have known that cables can be used to detect seismic activity—work was done as far back as the 1960s to find out if they could be used to detect submarines or undersea earthquakes.

More recently, scientists have looked into the possibility of using distributed acoustic sensing as a way to detect seismic activity. Light pulses are sent across a cable and sensors listen for any bounced back due to tremors. Three years ago, a team installed a cable in Monterey Bay in California to test the idea. And another team from Caltech working with Google demonstrated the use of polarization in regular undersea telecommunications cables. In this new effort, the researchers extended the idea of using undersea cables by taking advantage of a feature of the repeaters used on such cables.

Repeaters are used to send signals great distances across the ocean floor—they listen to the signal, amplify it and pass it along. To assist with maintaining operations, repeaters have hardware to send signals in reverse. This helps to isolate problems. The researchers in this new effort used this feature to test using existing cables as underwater seismic sensors. They sent light through a cable that connects the U.K. to Canada and then studied the signals sent back by the repeaters. They found that they were not only able to see seismic activity, but they were also able to locate it to points between repeaters. The researchers were able to detect a small earthquake with an origin near Peru and another near Indonesia. They found the cable so sensitive that they were even able to make out noise from moving ocean currents.

And so, based on such serendipitous discoveries, science in general, and seismology in particular, can be enhanced.

Thanks to techxplore.com for that report.

Universetoday.com notes that growing food in space using in-situ resources is [going to be] vital if astronauts are to survive on both the Moon and Mars for the long-term. Growing plants in space using Earth soil is nothing new, as this research is currently ongoing on board the International Space Station (ISS). But recent research carried out on Earth has taken crucial steps in being able to grow food in space using extra-terrestrial material that we took from the Moon over 50 years ago.

In a recent study published in Communications Biology, researchers have made a remarkable first step in helping future astronauts on the Moon grow their own food using lunar regolith instead of Earth soil. This is an extraordinary discovery as this could help future astronauts on the Moon and Mars grow their own food using in-situ resources as opposed to relying on resupplies from Earth to help them survive. What makes this research even more amazing is it was accomplished using lunar regolith that was returned from the Moon over 50 years ago by samples from Apollo 11, 12, and 17.

“This research is critical to NASA’s long-term human exploration goals as we’ll need to use resources found on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living and operating in deep space,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This fundamental plant growth research is also a key example of how NASA is working to unlock agricultural innovations that could help us understand how plants might overcome stressful conditions in food-scarce areas here on Earth.”

“Here we are, 50 years later, completing experiments that were started back in the Apollo labs,” said Robert Ferl, a professor in the Horticultural Sciences department at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and a co-author on the study. “We first asked the question of whether plants can grow in regolith. And second, how might that one day help humans have an extended stay on the Moon.”

For the study, the team grew the well-studied Arabidopsis thaliana, which is native to Eurasia and Africa, and is a relative of mustard greens and other cruciferous (cabbage family) vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts.

[All the seeds germinated, but] it was only after day six that the research team realized the plants growing in the regolith were not as robust as the control group plants growing in volcanic ash. To make matters worse, the regolith plants were growing differently depending on which type of sample they were in. They grew more slowly and had stunted roots; additionally, some had stunted leaves and sported reddish pigmentation.

While the plants ultimately did not turn out as was hoped, this research nonetheless opens the door not only to growing plants in habitats on the Moon, but it also opens the door for additional studies as well.

In the meantime, it sounds as though we’re going to need a lot of tomato or soya sauce to make the stuff edible.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.