Posts Tagged ‘Amazon’

By Chelsea Harvey

The tiniest particles of airborne pollution may affect the weather, new research suggests—even in some of the most pristine parts of the world.

A study published in the journal Science found that ultra-fine aerosol particles, produced by industrial activity, are helping storms grow bigger and more intense in the Amazon basin. Many scientists had long assumed that these microscopic particles—which can be more than 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair—were far too small to have any effect on the weather.

But a combination of observations and model simulations, focusing on the tropical rainforest outside the Brazilian city of Manaus, indicate that these tiny particles are actually causing bigger storm clouds and heavier rainfall. The findings suggest that the increase in pollution since the onset of the Industrial Revolution may have “appreciably changed” the formation of storm clouds, the researchers write. And they suggest that changes in the Amazon’s climate could potentially reverberate in other parts of the world.

The research comes at a time of growing interest in aerosols—small pollution particles, often produced by industrial activities—and their influence on global weather and climate. Aerosols are known to produce a temporary cooling effect on the climate, and research increasingly suggests that air pollution may have helped to cover up some of the effects of human-caused climate change (Climatewire, Jan. 22). This means ongoing efforts to reduce pollution may be accompanied by enhanced warming, scientists note, along with a variety of other weather-related side effects.

The new study reinforces the idea that pollution has a significant influence on atmospheric processes, down to daily weather patterns. Previous research has already demonstrated that larger aerosol particles can lead to stronger storms.

Particles in the air can interact with water vapor and form droplets, influencing the formation of clouds. One widely covered modeling study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014, suggested that pollution from Asia can intensify storms in the northwestern Pacific and may even affect weather patterns over North America.

But until now, the influence of the tiniest pollution particles has been largely overlooked.

“Previously, scientists had this concept that these ultra-fine particles, they are too small to be ‘activated,’ to be transformed into cloud droplets,” Jiwen Fan, the lead study author and a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, told E&E News.

The Amazon provided a “perfect setting” to investigate, she added. Rainforest outside Manaus remains relatively untouched by human activity, and the background aerosol levels are low. But winds often sweep in pollution from the city, providing a kind of natural laboratory to test the effects of higher and lower levels of particles in the air.

The researchers found that the tiny particles had an even greater effect on storm intensity than their larger counterparts. The tiny particles are lifted higher into the air before they begin to interact with water vapor and transform into cloud droplets, forming taller clouds. The resulting high concentration of water droplets forming the clouds release large amounts of heat as they condense, which helps to invigorate the air rising up through the cloud and intensify the brewing storm.

So far, the study only documents the process in a specific part of the Brazilian Amazon, meaning more research would be needed to determine whether the same effects apply elsewhere. But the researchers suggest that other humid and remote parts of the world, where human influence is starting to grow, may be similarly affected. For instance, the influence of shipping traffic in the open ocean might be a point worth investigating, Fan suggested.

The researchers also suggest that climatic changes in the Amazon could affect precipitation patterns in other places. This remains to be investigated—but the authors point out that the water cycle in the warm, humid Amazon plays a significant role in regulating climate patterns elsewhere around the world.

If human pollution continues to encroach on the region’s remaining untouched areas, they write, the resulting weather changes “could have profound effects on other places around the globe.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/tiny-particles-of-pollution-may-strengthen-storms/

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by Bryan Nelson

Coral reefs are sometimes called the rain forests of the sea due to their immense biodiversity. Like rain forests, they’re typically found in the tropics, and because they usually thrive in clear, turquoise waters, they make for accessible attractions for divers, snorkelers, and researchers alike.

Reefs don’t usually like to form in muddy waters, such as at mouths of rivers — or so we used to think. But a remarkable new discovery in the Amazon could rewrite the book on coral reef biology. There, in the murky waters at the mouth of the Amazon River, scientists have found a massive, thriving coral reef that stretches from the French Guiana border to Brazil’s Maranhão State, an area covering about 3,600 square miles, reports The Smithsonian. That’s larger than the state of Delaware.

How did such a natural spectacle remain hidden from science until now? Well, as noted, scientists don’t usually think to look for coral reefs in muddy waters. Also, the Amazon has the largest discharge of any river in the world, so the waters at its mouth are more than murky — they’re downright thick and soupy.

Still, it’s incredible to discover such a massive new ecosystem like this in modern times. Scientists are giddy at the thought of the number of new creatures — animals that have evolved to thrive uniquely in this unexpected environment — that might soon be discovered here.

“This is something totally new and different from what is present in any other part of the globe,” said oceanographer Fabiano Thompson. “But until now, it’s been almost completely overlooked.”

“You wouldn’t expect to have gigantic reefs there, because the water is full of sediment and there’s nearly no light or oxygen,” added Thompson.

Researchers have already found at least 29 specimens of sponges that likely constitute new species. Strange microbes that seem to base their metabolism not on light but on minerals and chemicals such as ammonia, nitrogen and sulfur are also plentiful in early samples. This unconventional form of life could help explain how the creatures that live among this reef manage to survive.

So far, only a small fraction of the new habitat has been mapped, and it may have been discovered in the nick of time, seeing as oil and gas companies are rapidly expanding into the region for potential drilling. Discovering this unique reef system here will hopefully lead to protections that will help preserve it before it can be irreparably damaged.

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/coral-reef-larger-delaware-discovered-muddy-amazon-waters

By Traci Watson, National Geographic

Don’t blame the lure of a glowing smartphone for keeping you up too late. Even people without modern technology don’t sleep the night away, new research says.

Members of three hunter-gatherer societies who lack electricity—and thus evenings filled with Facebook, Candy Crush, and 200 TV channels—get an average of only 6.4 hours of shut-eye a night, scientists have found. That’s no more than many humans who lead a harried industrial lifestyle, and less than the seven to nine hours recommended for most adults by the National Sleep Foundation.

People from these groups—two in Africa, one in South America—tend to nod off long after sundown and wake before dawn, contrary to the romantic vision of life without electric lights and electronic gadgets, the researchers report in Thursday’s Current Biology.

“Seeing the same pattern in three groups separated by thousands of miles on two continents (makes) it pretty clear that this is the natural pattern,” says study leader and sleep researcher Jerome Siegel of the University of California, Los Angeles. “Maybe people should be a little bit more relaxed about sleeping. If you sleep seven hours a night, that’s close to what our ancestors were sleeping.”

Previous research has linked lack of sleep to ills ranging from poor judgment to obesity to heart disease. The rise of mesmerizing electronic devices small enough to carry into bed has only heightened worries about a modern-day epidemic of bad sleep. One recent study found that after bedtime sessions with an eBook reader, test subjects took longer to fall asleep and were groggier in the morning than when they’d curled up with an old-fashioned paper book.

Many scientists argue that artificial lighting curtailed our rest, leading to sleep deficits. But Siegel questioned that storyline. He was studying the sleep of wild lions when he got the inspiration to monitor the sleep of pre-industrial people, whose habits might provide insight into the slumber of early humans.

Siegel and his colleagues recruited members of Bolivia’s Tsimane, who hunt and grow crops in the Amazonian basin, and hunter-gatherers from the Hadza society of Tanzania and the San people in Namibia. These are among the few remaining societies without electricity, artificial lighting, and climate control. At night, they build small fires and retire to simple houses built of materials such as grass and branches.

The researchers asked members of each group to wear wristwatch-like devices that record light levels and the smallest twitch and jerk. Many Tsimane thought the request comical, but almost all wanted to participate, says study co-author Gandhi Yetish of the University of New Mexico. People in the study fell asleep an average of just under three and a half hours after sunset, sleep records showed, and mostly awakened an average of an hour before sunrise.

The notable slugabeds are the San, who in the summer get up an hour after sunrise. The researchers noticed that at both the San and Tsimane research sites, summer nights during the study period lasted 11 hours, but mornings were chillier in the San village. That fits with other data showing the three groups tend to nod off when the night grows cold and rouse when temperature bottoms out before dawn.

Our time to wake and our time to sleep, Siegel says, seem to be dictated in part by natural temperature and light levels—and modern humans are divorced from both. He suggests some insomniacs might benefit from re-creating our ancient exposure to warmth and cold.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/10/20151015-paleo-sleep-time-hadza-san-tsimane-science/

Deep in the Amazon rainforest, a group of veterans chokes down a gritty, gut-wrenching shot of liquid absolution. They try to drink away their severe mental disturbances, but not the way you drink away your ex-girlfriend with a bottle of whiskey. They’re looking for a cure. Their leader: 27-year-old retired infantryman Ryan LeCompte. Their goal: to hallucinate away their terrible memories.

From a few fringe psychiatrists to veterans like LeCompte, there is a budding belief that extreme hallucination can save our brains from themselves. Several organizations, including the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and adventurous doctors around the world test out psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin and ayahuasca for possible medical uses.

Ayahuasca is a devilish brew. It’s made of vines and roots found in the Amazon; drinking it equals a heavy psychedelic experience and profuse vomiting. “As the shapes and colors continued to move about, they sometimes converged to create the face of a woman, who of course I immediately labeled as Aya,” says an ayahuasca user on the underground drug website Erowid. Aya is known as the spirit or soul of the ayahuasca world. LeCompte described having kaleidoscope vision during his ayahuasca trip, and he even began to dance and went to look at leaves and other pieces of the nature around him at points.

Ryan LeCompte is a scruffy former Marine who, today, is studying at the eccentric Naropa University in Boulder. The school was founded by Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford University scholar Chögyam Trungpa and includes schools such as the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The beat poets used to flock to there. It’s a Buddhist-inspired school infamous for attracting people who are looking for an alternative education in an attractive location.

For his part, LeCompte didn’t ever face a PTSD diagnosis during his time in service. But he’s lucky, because many of his peers did. What he did experience still shook him. In 2008, while stationed in 8th and I Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., LeCompte walked into the room of a good friend in his barracks one morning to find Sgt. Jorge Leon-Alcivar dead—a suicide. He was not the only Marine LeCompte encountered who would take his own life. At least 22 veterans kill themselves every day. Leon-Alcivar’s death was the final straw, and three years later LeCompte retired from the Marines to start fighting PTSD. He received his End of Active Service honorable discharge after four years in the Marines and didn’t look back.

LeCompte began traveling to the VA hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was living, to learn what was ailing disturbed veterans and soldiers. He hung around in waiting rooms, cautiously approaching the soldiers, wheedling their stories out. But it didn’t take much persuasion; the men were “so beat,” he recalls, that they opened up to him instantly. This took course over several years, during his free time, while he did contract work building helicopters.

Soon, LeCompte had amassed the information from about 100 cases in Birmingham; Veterans spilled almost everything to him: their meds, their dosages, their choice of therapy. It all added up. Over and over again, he discovered his peers were taking the same types of medicines such Zoloft and Paxil, in the same dosages, 50 to 200mg of Zoloft a day or 20 to 60mg of Paxil a day were common, and with the same form of EMDR therapy. EMDR is a somatic therapy that follows eye movements and dream states.

LeCompte didn’t see anything wrong with the therapy. How about the drugs? Yeah, it’s probably the drugs. LeCompte’s complaints ring of an old story these days in American psychiatry: we’re too drugged up, we’re overdosed and overdiagnosed. It’s a complaint plenty of professionals agree with, but only a handful of psychiatrists are taking alternate routes. “There are some veterans who actually do respond to those meds, but it’s rare,” Dr. Sue Sisley, an expert on PTSD in veterans who has studied treating the illness with marijuana, told ATTN:. “The vets who respond to the standard FDA approved meds like Zoloft or Paxil is probably less than 10 percent. The rest come in looking like zombies.”

LeCompte had tried almost all the drugs they were offering, from “highly addictive anxiolytics like Klonopin, and … Prozac as an anti-depressant and Ambien for a sleep aid,” he said. “These different drugs sort of mixed together in a cocktail just as a recipe for disaster,” he said. He never tried to contact U.S. Veteran’s Affairs to inform them of these problems, because he didn’t think they would do anything about it. VA psychiatrists like Dr. Basimah Khulusi of Missouri have been fired for simply refusing to increase medication dosages that they didn’t think their patients needed shows the kind of system LeCompte was dealing with.

LeCompte looked into how these drugs work and found they’re just mind blockers, they’re not helping you deal with your problems. “Medications do not entirely eliminate symptoms but provide a symptom reduction and are sometimes more effective when used in conjunction with an ongoing program of trauma specific psychotherapy,” according to the VA website.

LeCompte looked at research from people like Julie D. Megler, watched videos of the academic conferences focusing on psychedelics called Psychedemia from Penn State and went on websites like Erowid to look at ayahuasca experiences people had posted to the site. What did he learn? “Something like ayahuasca or MDMA is used to bridge severed connections in the brain that trauma plays a big part in creating,” he said.

“Ayahuasca opens the limbic pathways of the brain to affect the emotional core of the trauma in a way similar to affective psychotherapy for trauma, and also impacts higher cortical areas … to allow the patient to assign a new context to their trauma,” wrote brain experts J. L. Nielson and J. D. Megler, in the book The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca.

Soon, LeCompte started having conversations with veterans and began informing people of the possible benefits of ayahuasca, wondering if anyone else was daring enough to start considering the idea of drinking a shot of psychedelics for their PTSD. LeCompte had never tried ayahuasca, but he was willing to try anything to help his comrades. Eventually he heard of an ayahuasca retreat, the Phoenix Ayahuasca retreat in Peru, where he could test out his medicine.

It took him six months to do what any sane person would do before planning a group outing to South America to hallucinate in a forest together… he started a nonprofit. Its name? The Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy. Other vets started to find him; some were suicidal, exhausted by the daily challenge of deciding whether or not they wanted to be alive. He didn’t know them, but he felt he intimately understood – or at least sympathized with – their minds. He rounded up a trip: five other vets, and him. MAPS helped pay for two of the trips for veterans who couldn’t afford it, and the rest paid for themselves.

The prep was strangely regimented: LeCompte had to ensure the veterans were off their medication for a month leading up to the trip; anti-depressants plus ayahuasca equal a lethal mix. That task amounted to phone therapy and keeping a close eye on everyone: He called the guys every day, even their friends and family, to make sure the men had quit their pills, he said. But he made it work. The families may have thought the idea was strange, but LeCompte says none of them tried to stop their family members because of their knowledge that the drugs weren’t helping treat the PTSD symptoms, and they just wanted to help their family.

The veterans flew into Iquitos, Peru, from Lima – from Iquitos, they sat in a van all the way to the Amazon, winding past motorbikes and rickshaws “on back roads in the middle of bum fuck,” LeCompte says.

Then their lives collided and things got weird.

They were stationed for 10 days at Phoenix Ayahuasca. The camp was little more than a set of huts in the jungle, made from wood and leaves. They would drink the ayahuasca on ceremony nights and be led through their experience by the shaman, and they would stay in their personal huts on days off to reflect on their experiences alone.

LeCompte said the ayahuasca drink “tastes like shit.” The shaman leading the experience dressed in all white scrub-like clothes, like a nurse lost in the jungle. After you drink the brew, the shaman’s job is simply to observe. He diagnoses: Is anyone losing it? Some people have been known to begin convulsing. Is this the moment they need to hear a song that will send them burrowing into a different dimension? “I don’t know how he does it. It’s beyond my rational mind,” LeCompte said. “It” amounts to singing, blowing smoke on trippers’ faces and using instruments like a rattler to change their state of mind.

For his part, LeCompte only wanted two out of the four drink ceremonies, since they were so powerful. It certainly wasn’t about the PTSD for LeCompte; he was trying to get past his experiences of fallen friends and broken relationships. He says just returning home to family and friends from military service or an ayahuasca trip is a difficult experience of its own. “You’re a changed person and there’s no doubting or denying that.”

“Most people get a cut, and they put a bandaid on it,” he said. “These people have had these wounds for so long that they’ve become infected. The infection can’t be fought off with a bandaid.” LeCompte sees ayahuasca as an antibiotic, not a bandaid.

LeCompte is now planning to do an official study to look at how ayahuasca could treat PTSD, which will serve as his thesis for Naropa University. It is being sponsored by MAPS, and it will focus on 12 veterans with treatment resistant PTSD who will try using ayahuasca to treat it. The plan is to conduct the study over 10 days in early 2016. LeCompte is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to fund research and education around the medicinal use of ayahuasca.

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2KDuBh/:1EfXhqlsu:Y+0NYw4t/www.attn.com/stories/2301/semicolon-tattoo-mental-health

Imagine discovering a plant that has the potential to help alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and paralyzing anxiety. That’s what some believe ayahuasca can do, and this psychedelic drink is attracting more and more tourists to the Amazon.

If you Google “ayahuasca,” you’ll find a litany of stories about Hollywood celebrities espousing its benefits, as well as the dangers of this relatively unstudied substance that triggers hallucinations.

On this Sunday’s episode of “This Is Life,” Lisa Ling goes inside an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru and talks to the men and women who are drinking this potent brew in hopes that it will alleviate their mental and emotional traumas.

Here are six things to know about ayahuasca, which some call a drug and others call a medicine:

War vets are seeking it for PTSD

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan LeCompte organizes trips to Peru for war veterans, like himself, who are seeking ayahuasca as a possible treatment for PTSD and other emotional and mental trauma suffered after multiple combat deployments.

He says he’s aware of the risks, as there’s very little known about ayahuasca’s effect on the body, but he says “it’s a calculated risk.”

“Ayahuasca is a way to give relief to those who are suffering,” says LeCompte, who says many veterans are not satisfied with the PTSD treatment they receive when they return from combat.

“It’s just, ‘Here’s a pill, here’s a Band-Aid.’ The ayahuasca medicine is a way to, instead of sweeping your dirt under the rug, you know, these medicines force you to take the rug outside and beat it with a stick until it’s clean,” LeCompte explains. “And that’s how I prefer to clean my house.”

Libby, an airman 1st class, is one of the veterans who accompanied LeCompte to Peru to try ayahuasca for her PTSD diagnosis, which includes sexual trauma while on active duty. She says antidepressants made her more suicidal.

“I would like to wish not to die all the time,” she said, when asked why she was seeking ayahuasca. “I want that to go away”

It’s endorsed by some Hollywood celebrities

As more ayahuasca centers pop up in the United States, not surprisingly, celebrities including Sting and Lindsay Lohan have spoken publicly about their experiences with the substance — albeit illegal outside of religious purposes in the United States.

Lohan, who has struggled with addiction, called her ayahuasca experience “eye-opening” and “intense.” “I saw my whole life in front of me, and I had to let go of past things that I was trying to hold on to that were dark in my life,” she said on her OWN reality series “Linsday.”

Sting said he and his wife, Trudie Styler, traveled to a church in the Amazon where they tried ayahuasca, which the British singer said made him feel like he was “wired to the entire cosmos.”

It’s not a cure
Those of have tried ayahuasca say that any benefits — like with other drugs or medicine — must be combined with therapy.

“If you think you’re just going to take ‘joy juice’ … you’re nuts,” explained author and ayahuasca expert Peter Gorman, who settled in Iquitos, Peru, during the first wave of ayahuasca tourism in the 1990s.

“The five years of work to get rid of [mental trauma] is still gonna be on you.”

Gorman, author of “Ayahuasca in My Blood,” explains that ayahuasca can help “dislodge that negative energy” and show people what their life could be like without the negativity.

“[Then] you can go back home and work on getting rid of it.”

And it used to be taken by only the shaman

Gorman says ayahuasca traditions in the Amazon have changed since Western tourists began seeking its benefits.

“Traditionally, the shaman drinks [ayahuasca], he accesses other realms of reality to find out where the dissonance is, that if the shaman corrects, will eliminate the [symptoms] — could be physical, could be emotional, could be bad luck,” Gorman explains. “[Then] we Americans come, and we said we insist on drinking the damn stuff — we want our lives changed and we want that experience, so that certainly set things right on its head.”

You can even buy ayahuasca powders and extracts online and in the local markets in the Peruvian Amazon, but Gorman warns “you don’t know what it would be.”

As more and more Western tourists consume ayahuasca, Gorman says it has him worried. “I’ve had this feeling in my bones for five or six years that something could go slightly wrong here that could sour a lot of stuff.”

Some ayahuasca tourists have died

In April, 19-year-old Briton Henry Miller died after taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony in Colombia, according to various media reports. And Kyle Nolan, an 18-year-old from northern California, died under similar circumstances in August 2012 in Peru.

The shaman who provided Nolan with the ayahuasca and who initially lied about his death was sentenced to three years in prison, his mother, Ingeborg Oswald, told CNN.

There have been other reported deaths, as well as reports of physical and sexual assaults. Writer Lily Kay Ross says she survived sexual abuse by an ayahuasca shaman.

“We have to take seriously the potential for harm alongside the huge potential for benefit,” Ross says on a video on a fundraising website for the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council. “Standards of safety and ethics would go a long way in making sure that this kind of abuse isn’t experienced by anyone else.”

Ron Wheelock, an American shaman who leads an ayahuasca healing center in the Peruvian Amazon, says he fears there may be more deaths.

“I hate to say it, yes there probably will be,” he told Lisa Ling. “It’s in the cards”

There’s a movement to create safe ayahuasca

Through IndieGogo.com, the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council is raising money to create a health guide for ayahuasca centers in the Amazon, so tourists know which centers are safe and harvesting the plants in a sustainable manner that supports the local communities.

The idea would be to put the ESC’s logo outside ayahuasca ceremony sites to signify those centers that meet the council’s criteria for safety and sustainability.

In addition, there are efforts to study the medicinal benefits of ayahuasca so that it can be regulated and legalized in the United States, explains Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies.

“At a time when drug policy is being reevaluated, when marijuana looks like it’s on the road toward legalization, when psychedelic medicine is moving forward through the FDA and we can envision a time when psychedelics are available as prescription medicines, how ayahuasca should be handled in a regulatory context is really up in the air,” Doblin said.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/22/health/ayahuasca-medicine-six-things/index.html?hpt=hp_t2