|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
The Boston Globe / January 04, 2015
Russian science is amazing. So why hasn't it taken over the world?
We should all worry about a great power's failure to convert on its knowledge, says MIT's Loren Graham.
По мнению историка науки, профессора Массачусетского технологического института Лорена Грэхэма, чрезвычайно серьезной проблемой российской науки и экономики является неспособность превращать свои блестящие идеи в коммерческие продукты. В российском обществе просто нет необходимых условий для этого - социальных, правовых, политических, экономических.
THE DRAMATIC collapse of the Russian ruble last month cast a stark, unflattering spotlight on the economy of one of the world's most important countries. In recent years Russia has become almost a petro-state - a nation of roughly 140 million people, many of them highly educated, whose wealth comes mostly from the blunt-force industries of resource extraction, and whose economy rises and falls on individual fluctuations in the price of oil or natural gas. When the price of oil started to slide, the ruble was suddenly vulnerable.
Other growing nations, like China, India, and Brazil, have diversified, building wealth from a wide base of technology and manufacturing. You can see this as you walk down the aisles at your local Best Buy, where the shelves are stocked with computers made in Chengdu and hard drives from Thailand, and again when you drive down the street, alongside cars made in Germany and Korea. But Russia has thrown off no such great global technology products. It's unthinkable that you'd seek out a Russian laptop, or make a call on a Russian cellphone, or watch a movie on a Russian flat-screen TV.
The MIT science historian Loren Graham has spent years trying to understand how this possibly could have happened. What makes it so startling, Graham says, is that Russia isn't a technology backwater - in fact, Russian scientists have been responsible for some of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century. Among their achievements, they invented lasers, did pioneering work on computers, and even came up with the idea of fracking - all of which were later developed and commercialized in other nations.
The ongoing inability to turn ideas into commerce has proved to be a profound problem for Russia - and ultimately for the rest of the world as well. The longer this massive nuclear power is economically dominated by resource oligarchs, rather than a stable, independent business sector, the longer the developed world will have to put up with it throwing its geopolitical weight around in unpredictable ways.
Today, Russia's leaders are starting to acknowledge the importance of this economic gap. In his annual State-of-the-Union-style address, delivered in early December, Vladimir Putin declared that it was imperative that the country he has led for the past 15 years break its "critical dependence on foreign technology." So far, efforts have largely taken the form of centralized initiatives, including one in the city of Skolkovo, which Kremlin officials have been trying - with the help of MIT - to turn into a Russian version of Silicon Valley.
But Graham's findings suggest that this may not be enough. "Putin says, 'We must diversify our economy, and we will do that,' " Graham said recently. "Well, to do that...they have to make all kinds of changes to their legal system, their patent system, the position of their investors. Technology doesn't take off by itself. It has to have all kinds of supporting ingredients."
Before a visit to Russia after the publication of his book last year, Graham spoke to Ideas by phone.
IDEAS: How would you describe Russia's relationship with technology?
GRAHAM: There's an amazing thing about Russia - I don't know any other country that displays this characteristic - and that amazing thing is that for over 300 years, they've had wonderful technical and scientific ideas, and yet, they get almost no economic benefit out of them. They cannot translate ideas into commercial products.
IDEAS: Why not?
GRAHAM: I think Russia makes the mistake, and is making it right now, and has made it for a long time, of thinking that the secret to modernization is the technology itself. So they keep going after the technology - they're doing that with MIT right now in Skolkovo. They think that if they can get the latest big thing, the latest new technology, that they're in like Flynn. But actually it won't do anything for them, because the characteristics [of] a society that are necessary for commercial success in technology do not exist in Russia - and those characteristics are social and legal and political and economic. The political leadership fears strong entrepreneurs who get rich because they fear that they'll be competitors.
IDEAS: You've been studying Russian science for over 50 years. Have you heard this complaint from Russian scientists for a long time?
GRAHAM: I often heard Russian scientists say, you know, "All my good ideas get robbed! You Westerners steal them from us!" But there is, in the Russian scientific community, the belief that business is dirty. And that you should not demean yourself by stepping out of the world of ideas...and in Russia this is reinforced by the fact that there is a lot of corruption and so, to go into business is, in an intellectual's mind, the same as getting into the dirty realm of crime, corruption, and wheeling and dealing.
IDEAS: Do you have a favorite example?
GRAHAM: A beautiful example is the laser. The laser is fundamental to our modern economy. We all use them - we use them in our cameras, printers. Everyone uses lasers all the time. But the laser is a fairly new technology - it was developed in the '50s and '60s, and two Russians got the Nobel Prize for inventing it! There was an American [who received the Nobel] too, Charles Townes - but two Russians, Alexander Prokhorov and Nikolai Basov, got the Nobel for it. Now, let's ask, who is making the money off lasers today? There isn't a single Russian company selling lasers on the international market that has any significance at all. Charles Townes, meanwhile...as soon as he developed a laser, even though he wasn't a businessman - he was your typical physics professor - he said, "Hey! I think someone could make money off this! I'm not a businessman, but I'm going to get my slice." So he immediately took out a patent on what he developed, and later he sold that patent to a business, because though he himself did not want to run a business, he still had a sense of what he had on his hands. And the Russians did nothing like that - in fact, they couldn't in the environment in which they lived.
IDEAS: Why not? Were efforts to commercialize lasers squelched in Russia?
GRAHAM: They weren't squelched - they never really got going. I interviewed Prokhorov - it never entered his head to start a company. And even if it had entered his head - there was no patent system, there were no investors, he couldn't have an IPO. All the things that go into making technology economically successful were missing. It was worse then, because it was still the Soviet Union. But it's not much better now - there's no real investor community. The angel investors that invest in high technology in Silicon Valley, around Kendall Square, and all that - that doesn't exist in Russia.
IDEAS: Are ordinary Americans different from ordinary Russians in their attitudes toward innovation?
GRAHAM: One of the characteristics of American culture is that successful entrepreneurs become almost cult figures - I mean, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates. These people are held up in popular culture as role models, and they have almost iconic status. There's no one like that in Russia.
IDEAS: But don't Russian scientists end up on stamps and so forth?
GRAHAM: Sure, they get celebrated on stamps - but they get celebrated as scientists. They don't get celebrated as technical entrepreneurs. There's a big difference between someone who works in a laboratory and gets all kinds of accolades, but doesn't do anything that affects the economy.
IDEAS: Are there exceptions?
GRAHAM: The exceptions tend to be in software. Software is easier to make a go of because it's an intellectual product, not really a material product - it's something you create with your mind. And if we're talking about products of the mind, the Russians are pretty good at those - think about the literature and the music and so forth. What they are not good at is inventing a material thing and manufacturing it and making a success of it - that's what lasers require. It wasn't enough to just invent it.
With software, for one thing, you don't run into corruption, whereas if you want to try to build something and manufacture something that requires a factory in Russia, or a storefront for that matter, you're going to be visited by someone who says you really need protection and unless you pay me, your business will be trashed.
IDEAS: How much of this is simply the result of the Soviet Union being a system with no private enterprise?
GRAHAM: The hangover of the Soviet Union is important, but it's not the whole story at all. In my book, I talk about the same problems in the Tsarist period - particularly in the 19th century. And the example I often give there is electric lighting. There was a man named Yablochkov who developed electric lights. Yablochkov went to Western Europe and he illuminated the avenues of Paris and London. That's when Paris got its nickname that it's still called today - "The City of Lights."
IDEAS: That sounds like an example of taking an idea and putting it into practice.
GRAHAM: Right. But then listen to this: The Russian government persuaded Yablochkov to come back to Russia after he got rich in France - and to do it in Russia. He came back to Russia, started a company, and went bankrupt - he couldn't find investors! He couldn't even get the hotel he was living in to install his lights. They preferred gas lights.
IDEAS: Was fracking really developed in Russia?
GRAHAM: It's a very little known story. In the 1950s, Russians developed the idea of fracking, and they published articles about it. And then what happened? Nothing. They didn't use it. These articles appeared in academic journals. They didn't appear in business journals, because there really weren't any business journals! So Americans developed fracking, you know, 30 years later!
And now there are American companies over in Russia - Chevron, Exxon, BP - who are teaching the Russians how to successfully do fracking even though the Russians developed the idea.
IDEAS: Do you see Russia's current leaders trying to fix this problem?
GRAHAM: I think [some of them] do realize that Russia needs to base its economy much more on what you'd call knowledge industries and much less on natural products, like oil and gas. They know that. And also there is private business in Russia now....But there are still plenty of obstacles.
IDEAS: How important is the failure to commercialize science to the way Russia is today more broadly?
GRAHAM: I think it's very significant. There are people in Russia who say - it's a hyperbole but it's a fair statement - that Russia's just Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons. Russia, right now, despite 300 years of trying to industrialize and modernize, it's an economy that's primarily based on oil and gas. It's a tragedy, and... the Russian leaders keep thinking that the way to solve the problem is by government edict - you know, create Skolkovo, and so forth. I would say that the failure of Russia to adequately use the talents of its scientists and engineers is one of the important reasons why Russia has not been able to make the transition to democracy. Because the government keeps thinking, we've got to modernize - but the way they choose to solve the problem just drives the problem deeper.
© 2015 Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC.
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Lethbridge Herald / January 9, 2015
Canada, Russia need each other to protect Arctic
Известный профессор права и специалист по проблемам освоения Арктики Майкл Байерс считает, что в вопросах политический и экологической безопасности в этом регионе Канада нуждается в хороших отношениях с Россией больше, чем с другими странами.
Canada needs a good relationship with Russia more than some other countries, says Michael Byers, a well-known law professor and an expert on Arctic security and the law of the sea.
Byers, speaking to a topic called "Arctic War or Arctic Peace?" during the weekly SACPA session Thursday afternoon, discussed similarities between the two countries and how they may need to work together moving forward on issues such as Arctic sovereignty, peace and security, in a time of geopolitical tension and rapidly advancing climate change.
"We share interests in terms of the peaceful resolution of disputes; the avoidance of militarization, which is incredibly expensive in the Arctic. It could bankrupt both Russia and Canada if we had to militarize the region," said Byers, an LCI grad and law professor at the University of British Columbia.
"Canada and Russia are also both acutely exposed to climate change, probably more than any other countries. Because the Arctic is at the forefront of climate change. Just think of the melting permafrost or the gas hydrates that are being released. We're in this together. When I look and talk with those young Russian students, they get this."
Byers just returned from a term as a visiting professor at the Novosibirsk State University in the Siberia region, where he gave a lecture to 150 Russian law students.
He said the city of 1.5 million, as well as the country as a whole, had been doing well economically for the past 10 years. But, like Alberta, he says, Russia is a "petro state" and relies on oil and is prone to rapid declines.
"Their entire economic plan is based on the extraction of oil and gas," he said. "During my four days in Russia, the ruble lost 30 per cent of its value against the U.S. dollar. In four days."
While there, he also visited a conference attended by Russian scientists and talked to a government-funded climatologist whose presentation was objective and consistent with the latest reports from an inter-governmental panel on climate change.
Byers asked him how he was allowed to say those facts, based on Vladimir Putin's denial of climate change being caused by humans but rather being part of a natural cycle.
"I said 'look, your president is a climate change denier, you live in a dictatorship, it's a petro state, and yet you can say this as a government scientist?' He looked and me said 'of course. Russia values science. Science can't contribute to the country unless it's allowed to be free,'" Byers said, followed by a loud applause from the audience.
© 1996-2015 The Lethbridge Herald, A Division of Continental Newspapers Canada Ltd.
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Daily Mail / 12 January 2015
Mystery of Siberia's strange throat singing solved: "Human bagpipe" singers have unique vocal cords that produce eerie notes
Специалисты лаборатории экспериментально-фонетических исследований Института филологии СО РАН провели исследование особенностей физиологии речи людей, говорящих на исчезающем шорском языке. В частности, ученые выяснили, почему европеоиды вряд ли смогут освоить горловое пение - у них более узкие голосовые связки и более вытянутая гортань, чем у тюрков.
If you try to emulate the strange low songs of throat singers from Siberia, you will probably be disappointed.
Scientists have discovered that the uniquely shaped vocal cords of people living in the Altai mountain region in southern Siberia means that only they can perform the eerie melodies composed centuries ago, which have been passed down generations.
The distinctive noise comprising a low hum with several higher notes sounded simultaneously, has featured in a song by Bjork, but hasn't popularly spread beyond the regions because only the people of southern Siberia and Tuva can make it.
Scientists from the Institute of Philology of the Russian Academy of Sciences have discovered that native Turks have different vocal cords so only they can master the melodies, The Siberian Times reported.
Their cords are slightly wider, with a shorter voice box, allowing natives to make the unique noise, which comes deep within the throat. Throat singers have been likened to "human bagpipes" and can sing a long, low note, while making higher whistling notes and rhythm.
The study suggests that people in Europe, for example, are unable to make the noises because of their differently shaped throats. It's believed that Mongolian men used songs to communicate across the vast, rugged landscape. They used natural features like mountains to ensure their voices carried long distances.
Now experts think that the way the notes were sung gradually altered the structure of people's throats in the region.
The researchers also studied the speech of two residents in Kemerovo who speak Turkic Shor, which is spoken by around 2,800 people in south central Siberia and borrows many of its roots from Mongolian. They used digital radiography and MRI scans to study the vocal apparatus and the brain. The research took place in the laboratory of experimental phonetic studies, which, since its creation in the 1960s, has been used to describe the sound and features of more than 40 languages and dialects.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.
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Novethic / le 13 janvier 2015
En Russie, la biodiversité du lac Baïkal est assaillie par les algues
Сброс сточных вод в озеро Байкал привел к тому, что в нем стала распространяться чужеродная водоросль - спирогира. Это ставит под угрозу экосистему озера и ведет к его заболачиванию.
Des scientifiques russes s'alarment: la présence massive d'algues sur certaines rives du lac Baïkal met en péril son écosystème. Une menace encore plus dangereuse que les rejets de l'usine de cellulose Baïkalsk, décriée par les écologistes et fermée à l'automne 2013. Inscrit au patrimoine mondial de l'humanité, ce lac d'une superficie équivalant à celle de la Belgique est la plus grande réserve d'eau douce de la planète.
La perle de la Sibérie est en danger. Des algues vertes s'amoncellent sur des rives du lac Baïkal. On en compte jusqu'à 90 kg par mètre carré. Drainées par les orages, elles se décomposent en dégageant une odeur nauséabonde. Sur ces côtes touchées par la pollution les habitants et animaux ne peuvent plus boire sans danger les eaux du lac réputées pour leur pureté.
"Le Baïkal est étudié depuis le 18e siècle et l'on n'a jamais observé un changement aussi grave de son écosystème dans toute l'histoire des recherches", alerte Mikhaïl Gratchev, directeur de l'Institut de limnologie (la science des eaux continentales) d'Irkoutsk, du département sibérien de l'Académie des sciences de Russie. Une expédition scientifique, menée en septembre dernier, a évalué le volume d'algues de type spirogyre à près de 1400 tonnes sur 10 km dans les eaux de surface au nord. Signe d'un excès de nutriments, nitrates et phosphates en particulier, elles ont commencé à proliférer en 2011 et s'amassent parfois sur 40 mètres de profondeur.
En cause: le rejet des eaux usée
A l'origine de cette pollution: les eaux usées. Les chercheurs pointent du doigt, entre autres, une station d'épuration dans la région de Severobaïkalsk. Initialement conçue pour les déchets ménagers, elle traite les eaux usées provenant du lavage des wagons de la RZD, les Chemins de fer russes. En 2010, la compagnie a changé de fournisseur au profit de détergents plus efficaces, mais plus dangereux, "un puissant cocktail de produits chimiques synthétiques, alcalins et même désinfectants", d'après Oleg Timochkine, biologiste à l'Institut de limnologie.
En amont, d'autres industries contribuent à ce phénomène en rejetant leurs eaux dans les affluents du lac. Sans oublier l'accroissement des flux de touristes face à des systèmes d'assainissement qui, quand ils existent, ne sont pas adaptés. Ni les eaux usées rejetées par les navires de la région… Selon Marina Rikhvanova, présidente de l'association Vague écologique du Baïkal, seules 1600 tonnes des 25000 tonnes d'eaux usées produites par les bateaux de la région d'Irkoutsk chaque année sont traitées.
La destruction de l'écosystème en marche
Si le lac, immense, est encore loin de se transformer en marécage, les scientifiques craignent la destruction irréversible de son écosystème naturel d'ici à une poignée d'années. Outre les bactéries entérocoques dangereuses pour la santé, ils ont constaté la mort de l'éponge qui filtre naturellement ses eaux. Avec plus de 900 espèces endémiques, selon l'Unesco (Organisation des Nations unies pour l'éducation, la science et la culture), le lac Baïkal est le plus riche au monde en termes de biodiversité. Or, les spirogyres étouffent les autres espèces d'algues et empêchent la reproduction de petits poissons qui sont à la base de la nourriture de l'omoul, le plus fameux - et le plus pêché - des poissons du lac. Et aucune étude n'a encore été menée sur la quantité présente dans les profondeurs.
Déjouer cette catastrophe écologique a un coût
Selon les experts, éviter cette catastrophe écologique coûterait environ 10 milliards de roubles (plus de 130 millions d'euros). Cette somme permettrait de réaliser un diagnostic approfondi et de rénover ou construire de nouvelles installations de traitement des eaux tout au long de la côte.
Mikhaïl Gratchev propose également d'interdire les poudres contenant des phosphates sur tout le territoire russe. C'est ce qu'a fait la France en 2007 pour les lessives.
© 2015 Novethic - Tous droits réservés.
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Scientific American / January 15, 2015
Russia's Forests Overlooked in Climate Change Fight
Russia's forests may lose their power to help curb global warming without stronger domestic protection and a place in a new global climate change deal, scientists have warned.
19% площади общемирового лесного фонда находятся в России, но могут изрядно сократиться и утратить свою способность сдерживать глобальное потепление к 2040 году, если лесам не будет обеспечена должная защита.
Соглашение ООН об изменении климата, которое должно будет обсуждаться в конце этого года, касается в основном тропических лесов, бореальные же леса практически не учтены.
ST PETERSBURG, Russia, Jan 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Russia's forests may lose their power to help curb global warming without stronger domestic protection and a place in a new global climate change deal, scientists have warned.
Russia has 19 percent of world forest reserves by surface area. But experts say the U.N. process drafting the climate change pact, due to be agreed at the end of 2015, has concentrated mainly on tropical forests.
"Boreal forests are getting far too little attention in the U.N. climate talks," said Yury Safonov, a senior climate policy researcher with Moscow's Higher School of Economics.
Boreal forests are located in the high northern latitudes of Eurasia and North America, and consist of hardy trees, many of them coniferous, such as pine and larch, and some deciduous, including poplar and birch.
Each year, boreal forests sequester more than 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas. Russian forests account for between 300 and 600 million tonnes of that, Safonov said.
But a study by the Centre on the Problems of Ecology and Productivity of Forests at the Russian Academy of Sciences has warned that, due to unsustainable forest policy in Russia and negative climate impacts, net CO2 absorption by the country's forests may drop to zero towards the mid-2040s.
The scientists said most of Russia's managed forest reserves will become too mature to keep on sucking up CO2. Recent studies have questioned, however, whether aging trees do cease to function as carbon sinks.
Another major problem is pests, which are multiplying and living longer because they are no longer being killed off by freezing winters.
Traditional "Siberian" winters where temperatures remain below minus 20 degrees Celsius have become rare. They are being replaced by milder winters, with regular thaws and wider temperature fluctuations.
NATIONAL FOREST GOAL?
Alexey Kokorin of green group WWF Russia urged the government to adopt a more sustainable forest policy that limits logging and aims to expand tree cover.
"We think Russia should follow the way of China, and not only declare a target for emissions reductions, but also set a national forest goal," he said.
That could be expressed in terms of tonnes of CO2 stored, or in millions of hectares of protected forests where commercial felling is prohibited, Kokorin added.
So far, Russia has yet to clarify whether forests are included in its emissions reduction targets for 2020 - a cut of 25 percent from 1990 - and for 2030 - a decrease of 25 to 30 percent from the same base year.
Russia has tried to bring the issue of boreal forests into the U.N. negotiations. But some say the effort is not enough.
"In the future (climate) agreement, a proper consideration of all forests, including boreal ones, should be provided," Russia's chief negotiator Oleg Shamanov told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
At December's climate talks in Lima, Alexander Bedritsky, special envoy for the Russian president, underlined the importance of recording and accounting for the carbon storage function of boreal forests, as part of a wider treatment of land use change and forestry in the new agreement.
Experts say the Bikin River forest conservation project in Russia's Far East and an afforestation project in Siberia's Altai region, carried out under the Kyoto Protocol, the existing global treaty to cut emissions, could be used to push for inclusion of boreal forests in the new deal.
Since the New York Declaration on Forests was launched at the Ban Ki-moon climate summit in September, aiming to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and end it by 2030, Russian green groups have urged Moscow to sign on.
But in Lima, Russian forest negotiator Anna Romanovskaya said that was unlikely. Russia was not consulted on the declaration, and was unhappy with its exclusive focus on tropical forests, she said.
FUNDING DRIES UP
Safonov noted that few other countries with boreal forests take an active stance on them at U.N. negotiations, including the United States, Finland and Sweden. "Russia doesn't get any support from anyone in this area," he said.
Urgent measures were needed to protect the Arctic and northern Siberia from climate change as it is happening there "more quickly than anywhere else in the world", he added.
For example, forest belts could be planted to prevent soil erosion and forestry waste used as biofuel, he proposed.
WWF's Kokorin suggested earmarking virgin forests as "no-cutting" zones, and prohibiting commercial logging in protected forests.
But without external support, Russia might struggle to fund sustainable forest management during an economic downturn and international fallout over its military intervention in Ukraine, said Andrey Stetsenko, an environmental economist with Moscow State University.
For example, Safonov and other experts said projects approved by the Global Environment Facility had been put on hold due to foreign policy issues, including sanctions over Ukraine.
Meanwhile Russia's federal budget for 2015 has slashed spending on energy efficiency to zero due to economic woes.
"The question is how Russia and its regions are aiming to fulfill their emissions reduction targets and low-carbon and energy efficiency development plans in such a situation," Safonov said.
© 2015 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc.
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pv magazine / 19 January 2015
Russia develops high-efficiency HIT modules
В Физико-техническом институте им. А.Ф.Иоффе созданы промышленные образцы гетеропереходных солнечных модулей, состоящих из ультратонких кристаллических слоев кремния. Технология гетероперехода с внутренним тонким слоем может повысить эффективность преобразования энергии на 20%.
Industrial prototypes of above 20% efficient HIT modules produced in Russia. News comes as Chinese company plans cell and module manufacture on Russian soil.
Russia received good news from its technology sector over the new year period with the country's Efficient Energy Technologies' Skolkovo fund, at the Ioffe Technologies Institute, announcing its scientific team produced industrial prototypes of heterojunction solar modules consisting of ultra-thin crystalline silicon layers.
The technology - widely known as HIT (heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer) - can enable energy conversion efficiency above 20% at the industrial production level.
The key feature of the technology stems from the metal contacts which, highly active in traditional, diffused-junction cells, are electronically separated from the absorber by the insertion of a wider bandgap layer.
This induces the high-efficiency open-circuit voltages, usually intrinsic to heterojunction devices, eliminating the need for expensive patterning techniques.
The advantage of crystals is their high efficiency and absence of light degradation and also relatively low costs and high performance at high temperatures.
The Russians obtained samples showed the conversion efficiency is over 20% and are exhibiting good reproducibility over the entire area of the installation.
"In recent years, there has been significant progress in increasing the efficiency of solar structures of this type, and now the laboratory samples have reached record-highs of conversion efficiency of 25.6%, to be exact, which exceeds the results for similar structures on crystalline silicon," the Ioffe Institute statement read.
HIT technology an advanced solar vector
"HIT technology is one of the most advanced development vectors in solar energy. The laboratory and research base we have here allows solving ambitious scientific and technical objectives, including the creation of heterostructure solar cells on silicon," emphasized Yuri Sibirskij, head of the institute's Renewable and New Materials Cluster at the Skolkovo fund.
The Ioffe Institute is one of Russia's largest institutions for research in physics and technology with a wide variety of operating projects.
The Skolkovo fund is run by Hevel, a joint venture of Rusnano and Renova, Russia's two major energy holdings.
"The practical value of this work is that the scientists proved the real possibility of moving from the promising scientific data collection to the industrial level. The research results already can be used for upgrading the solar modules' technological line at a Xevel's factory in Novocheboksarsk. It has high competence in producing ultra-thin crystalline silicon layers," said Sibirskij.
Meanwhile, the ministry of housing of the Russian Republic of Bashkortostan reported on the first village in the region with an autonomous power supply.
Company GIP-Elektro, the power grid operator serving Karaidelsky district, equipped the remote village with wind turbines and solar panels.
The old power lines were in decay and, according to the regional municipal office, would have required RUB10 million ($155,000) to replace.
The construction of sustainable energy generators instead cost the operator just RUB1 million ($15,500).
At the end of 2014, Solar Systems - owned by China's Amur Sirius and created to penetrate the Russian solar market - signed a long-term deal which foresees assembling solar cells and PV modules in Russia for local and foreign markets.
Upon agreement, the three companies will pool capital to finance a 200MW annual capacity plant in the free Russian economic zone in Alabuga.
The first production lines of the facility, of a combined capacity of 100MW, are to be opened in the second quarter of 2016.
Copyright 2015 © pv magazine.
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BBC News / 19 January 2015
Soviet Union collapse "affected region's wildlife"
Данные исследований, проведенных группой российских, немецких и американских ученых, показывают резкое сокращение численности крупных млекопитающих в России после 1991 года. Наиболее вероятные причины - изменение среды обитания в результате социально-экономических потрясений, вызванных распадом Советского Союза (лишение некоторых привычных источников питания), браконьерство и ослабление мер защиты дикой природы. Тем не менее, в последнее время наметились и положительные изменения.
Статья "Rapid declines of large mammal populations after the collapse of the Soviet Union" будет опубликована в журнале Conservation Biology.
The socioeconomic shocks following the collapse of the Soviet Union also affected the region's wildlife, researchers have suggested.
A study of large mammal species in Russia found that most experienced a sharp decline in numbers from 1991. The authors said likely reasons for the declines were poaching and the erosion of wildlife protection enforcement. Writing in Conservation Biology, they suggested international support was needed during such times.
"What we did was to prove there was a simultaneous decline for wild boar, brown bear and moose in most regions of Russia at the beginning of the 1990s, which was right after the collapse [of the Soviet Union]," explained co-author Eugenia Bragina from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US.
"All three species are very different and have different habitat requirements," she told BBC News, indicating that the declines were not the result of a disturbance to one particular habitat.
"For example, moose prefer successional forests where there are young trees that they can forage on. Wild boar really love agricultural crops, which people in the Soviet Union used to plant for this species."
Rise of the wolf
Dr Bragina observed that despite very different ecological histories, all three species recorded a decline and these declines coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union. She added that as a result of the socioeconomic shock that was felt throughout the region, each species probably felt it in different ways.
"For wild boar, it was probably the loss of crops as forage because hunting managers did not plant these crops any more.
The team noted that the study of populations of eight large mammal species in Russia between 1981-2000 did show that there was one exception.
Dr Bragina said: "What was interesting was that only one species recorded an increase: the grey wolf. In the Soviet Union, they controlled the population of the grey wolf. There were incentives to hunt the wolves - such as free licences for ungulate species - but, of course, during the turmoil of the collapse, people had other things to worry about".
She added that the team suspect that the increase in the wolf population, which grew by 150% during the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, probably contributed to the decline of the moose population.
Based on their findings, the team hypothesised: "Likely reasons for the population declines in the 1990s include poaching and the erosion of wildlife protection enforcement." However, the data indicated a change in fortune for some of the species' populations a decade later.
"The second part of the story is good news, which is quite nice as it is not all doom and gloom," said Dr Bragina.
"We now see that the wild boar population in Russia is now larger than it was in 1991. It had collapsed and we lost about half of the population in the 1990s". However, it is a very adaptive species. So after a few years, it found new sources of food, somehow managed to survive and now it is doing well. Other species like roe deer and brown bear are also showing positive signs of recovery. But there are other species are still in decline, such as the Eurasian lynx. However, the team noted that this was a long-term trend and could not be linked to the social and economic consequences of events in the country at the beginning of the 1990s.
Dr Bragina said that the study highlighted that a sudden shock to a nation's socioeconomic infrastructure was likely to have an impact on the country's wildlife as well.
"When something like that happens we do need to pay close attention to what is happening to the wildlife," she suggested.
"Of course, when poverty increases rapidly like it did in Russia in the 1990s, there are no resources for people to pay attention to the management of wildlife. I think that is the moment when international conservation groups should pay attention and consider ways to preserve the wildlife. Otherwise we may find that important or iconic species are put in jeopardy."
Copyright © 2015 BBC.
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Times Higher Education / 22 January 2015
Russia's universities: rebuilding "collapsed stars"
Самый престижный российский вуз, МГУ, занял в 2014 г. лишь 196 место из 400 в мировом рейтинге, составляемом журналом Times Higher Education и корпорацией Thomson Reuters. НГУ вошел в четвертую сотню, СПбГУ не вошел вовсе. Чем бы это ни объяснялось - проблемами управления, хроническим недофинансированием или выпадением русскоязычных журналов из поля зрения систем научного индексирования, - в 2013 г. был запущен амбициозный "Проект 5-100", согласно которому к 2020 г. пять российских вузов должны войти в первую сотню "табели о рангах". Однако инвестиции в проект все еще довольно скромные.
Jack Grove reports from Moscow on bold plans to revive the country's ailing higher education sector.
At an astonishing 787ft (240m) tall, the vast tower of Lomonosov Moscow State University dominates the skyline of Russia's capital.
Opened shortly after Stalin's death in 1953, his "temple to Soviet science" remains the world's tallest university building and can be seen by Muscovites for miles in every direction.
But while the tower - more than three times as high as London's Senate House Library and Europe's tallest building until 1990 - is awe-inspiring, today, the international standing of Russia's universities does not reach such heights.
In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-15, Moscow State - Russia's most prestigious and highest-ranked university - is 196th in the world , and occupied positions in the low 200s for the previous four years. Meanwhile, Russia's oldest higher education institution, Saint Petersburg State University - the alma mater of eight Nobel laureates, dozens of world-renowned scientists and Russian president Vladimir Putin - did not break into the top 400, despite an illustrious history spanning almost 300 years. Siberia's Novosibirsk State University, founded in 1959, is the only other Russian institution to make the top 400.
Some commentators have asked whether these results present a fair picture of their performance, arguing that much of the research published in the country's 2,000 or so Russian-language journals goes unrecognised owing to the methodologies used to compile global league tables. They also point out that much high-quality research is located in institutes, such as the Russian Academy of Sciences, which is home to 45,000 researchers.
But many sector experts say that Russia's low standing in league tables is warranted - and that it is the result of chronic underinvestment over decades, a dysfunctional system for encouraging academic talent and a complacent reliance on past Soviet glories in science.
"Russian universities are bit like collapsed stars - they are still giving off light, but what produced that light disappeared many years ago," says the vice-rector at one Russian university, who asks not to be identified.
In an attempt to fix the problem, in 2013 Putin launched an ambitious plan, Project 5-100, that aims to place five Russian universities in the world's top 100 by 2020. One of its key objectives is to ensure that at least 10 per cent of Russia's academics and researchers and 15 per cent of its 7 million students come from abroad. The resources associated with this scheme are currently concentrated on 15 universities (out of 36 institutions that applied for grants in 2012), with more set to be cut out of the group each year in an X Factor-style elimination to decide the final five.
However, investment in Project 5-100 is relatively modest, with about 44 billion roubles (currently worth some Ј448 million) available for 2013-16. In comparison, Germany committed €1.9 billion (Ј1.4 billion) for the first stage of its Excellence Initiative (2006-2011) and France put €7.7 billion into plans to improve higher education, according to a European University Association report published in December.
Project 5-100's international spending power has also been hit by the collapse in the rouble's value amid falling oil prices and sanctions imposed by Western governments. With economists predicting that the country could be facing its first recession in five years, the present economic climate is likely to cripple efforts to recruit researchers from overseas.
Moreover, Russia's pariah status in the wake of its sudden invasion and annexation of Crimea and warmongering in eastern Ukraine will also do little to help academia improve its international links.
Nonetheless, Alexander Povalko, deputy minister of education and science, believes that the 2020 goal is not a fantasy, despite warnings that creating world-class universities takes decades.
"The pace is quite high, but the target is achievable," argues Povalko, who says that Russia is making faster progress on improving its rankings indicators than other countries.
"Russia is traditionally very strong in some areas, such as physics, so we are not building something from scratch - the potential exists in universities to do very well," he says.
One of the toughest parts of Project 5-100 is likely to be convincing international researchers, particularly émigré Russian scientists and young academics, to consider a career in Russia. But Povalko is confident that top talent from both Russia and abroad can be tempted to the sector.
"We are fighting for talent, no matter what their nation, alma mater or current affiliation," he says. "This task is relatively easy: just create strong motivation by salary, comfortable environment, unique research equipment and fascinating career perspectives."
In post-Soviet times, average salaries for academics have been lower than the average per capita income in Russia, with professors earning less than a professional holding a master's degree.
This has led to a massive brain drain - estimates indicate that approximately 80,000 scientists left Russia in the early 1990s alone - while not enough young Russians are entering academia to replace an ageing academic cohort, many of whom are nearing retirement. Some 26 per cent of university staff in Russia are now over the age of 60, according to 2012 figures from the Russian Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat), compared with 9 per cent of UK university staff in 2012-13.
"We should create comfortable conditions for academics to live," says Povalko. "Researchers need to be paid well, work in a pleasant college environment, have adequate healthcare and live in decent accommodation," he says.
But bolstering low academic salaries is only part of the remedy for Russia's ailing academy, Povalko adds. "People need to have a clear understanding of a career trajectory and that they will engage in interesting research, have good equipment and become part of major projects where their contribution is valued," he continues.
Indeed, many believe that it is Russia's academic system - still informed by outdated Soviet thinking - that is the major barrier to improvement, rather than just a lack of funding.
"Brilliant people, bad system," is how Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College in the US and a member of the international advisory panel for Project 5-100, sums up. "Despite all Russia's problems, academics are trained well, get really good jobs and are very productive outside their country," says Altbach of the academics who leave. But, he adds, "the constraints on productivity and publications in many Russian universities are considerable".
The lack of academic mobility is one of the major problems, with researchers often remaining at one university, usually their alma mater, for their entire career.
"You get your degree, you get a job and you never leave," explains Altbach, who identifies this "academic inbreeding" as a major obstacle to establishing a vibrant research culture. "It is very difficult to move around the country as part of a normal career structure, which is very limiting to your chances of gaining promotion," he says.
Under the Soviet system, this problem was largely resolved by requiring young researchers to undertake an obligatory placement at a university in the provinces. That gave institutions in far-flung parts of Russia the chance to attract bright young researchers, who often stayed on to become research leaders themselves - in part because they were unable to market their talents beyond the USSR.
"That generation of academics is not young any more…and soon will no longer serve as the core of their research groups," notes Maria Yudkevich, vice-rector at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in a new book, Young Faculty in the Twenty-First Century, due to be published this year. "In general there are few economic or social incentives to move from Moscow and St Petersburg to accept an entry-rank position at a regional university," she adds, observing that people would prefer to find a job outside the academic sector rather than move from these urban centres.
That low mobility between universities is exacerbated by a lack of transparent information about opportunities elsewhere, with external grants, fellowships and summer school places dependent on approval or recommendations from senior staff, says Yudkevich, who sees such practices as "discriminatory" to younger academics. Within this system, in which loyalty to professors is highly prized and reciprocated with offers of jobs or preferential treatment, "open" competitive hiring is widely seen as a charade; external candidates cannot compete with a well-connected PhD student from within the institution.
The lack of a peer-review culture is also damaging, adds Yudkevich. "All expertise and review processes are, in general, extremely personalised," she says, adding that good relations with colleagues are needed to secure publication in local journals.
Establishing more open and trustworthy recruitment and promotion procedures will be a key plank in any efforts to resuscitate Russia's "inbred" university system, but the underperformance of its existing research staff is perhaps the more pressing issue if Russia hopes to meet its 5-100 targets.
According to a Thomson Reuters report on the research outputs of G20 countries published in April last year, Russia's 447,000 researchers published just 26,500 papers indexed in the Web of Science in 2013.
In contrast, Germany's 328,000 researchers published nearly four times as many papers (about 95,000), slightly fewer than the UK's 100,000 papers, produced by 262,000 researchers. Among Russia's BRICS comparators, China's researchers are more than twice as productive and South Africa's more than four times so.
"Of course there is a language issue, but the incentives to publish are obviously not built into the system," observed Ihron Rensburg, vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, at THE's BRICS and Emerging Economies Universities Summit, held in Moscow last month. Russia needs to find a way to manage those academics who are underperforming on research output, added Rensburg, who also advocates the publication of all research in English - a policy that has boosted Johannesburg's research metrics.
Since the start of Project 5-100 and related reforms in 2012, revised academic contracts with financial rewards for performance have been introduced. While the salary increases of up to 40 per cent are long overdue, the conditions attached to them have not been embraced by many scholars.
"So we are paid more but we need to work twice [as hard]: classes, publications, applicants," said one scholar quoted in a study by Ivan Pavlyutkin, associate professor of sociology at HSE, who interviewed top-level administrators and academic leaders at eight Russian universities. Others felt the performance-related element of the pay was so small that teachers might opt out of extra work, according to Pavlyutkin's paper, published last autumn in HSE's newsletter, Higher Education in Russia and Beyond. "Do you think 2,000 roubles [about Ј20] can be recognised as a real stimulus for such an amount of additional work?", asked another academic of what he called "pin money".
Yet such policies are required to reward academics who produce internationally recognised research, believes Yudkevich, as otherwise, "people tend to publish in local journals, which (in many cases) are not peer-reviewed and are quite often of poor quality". She believes that more grants must also be made available for academics to attend conferences at other universities. "The entire presentation experience of some faculty often consists of presentations at local conferences organised by the home university with little or no competition for being selected to present a paper," she notes.
Other major structural changes may also have an effect on the performance of Russia's higher education sector. Dozens of what Povalko calls "poor quality" higher education institutions that were "toxic to the system" were closed or merged with other universities last year.
In the case of Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, its student body rose from about 13,000 students, mainly in Moscow, to 60,000 students across Russia and beyond after it was merged with the lower-ranked Russian State University of Trade and Economics in 2012.
To improve educational standards, Plekhanov has introduced a single curriculum for its 33 branch campuses, including those in Siberia, St Petersburg, Uzbekistan and Mongolia. "Some of the branches did not take it too well because they had a lot of freedom before," says Leonid Bragin, Plekhanov's vice-rector. Following the changes, local institutions will still control 30 to 45 per cent of the curriculum.
Reminders of Plekhanov's Soviet past loom large throughout the institution. At the institution's main entrance, a flame burns day and night on a prominent monument to Russia's war dead - a link to the university's time as a bandage-making factory, whose production lines were manned by scholars, including the rector himself.
Statues of revolutionaries killed in the October uprising of 1917 can also be found in the museum of the university, once named after Karl Marx, while memorials to the pre-Soviet industrialists who founded the institution are dotted around the campus.
However, there are also signs of a more modern student-focused university. In the lobby, a DJ is playing dance music, student society members are handing out fresh fruit to promote healthy eating as part of a campus health initiative, and display cabinets exhibit a multitude of Plekhanov sporting triumphs.
Plekhanov actively "uses online systems" to stream lectures to students across the campuses, says Bragin, while the university takes its responsibility to monitor standards across its branches "very seriously". Since the merger, he adds, new funds have been made available to refurbish much of its central Moscow campus, build a new swimming pool and accommodation centre and upgrade its teaching facilities.
So will the modernisation of Russian universities work? Can higher education institutions in the former Soviet state really embrace a new US-style model of university management, based on the needs of students, competitive research funding and performance-related pay?
On top of this, a host of new challenges have arisen in recent months following the collapse of the price of oil and gas, resources that account for 50 per cent of Russia's federal budget.
"I hope funding for the 5-100 project persists, even if government budgets are tightened," says Timothy O'Connor, vice-rector of academic affairs at Moscow's National University of
Science and Technology. "A fundamental change of culture takes a long time; otherwise initiatives are ephemeral and not long-lasting," he adds.
Investment in universities is vital if Russia wants to avoid similar oil-price related financial crises in future, O'Connor argues. "One of the major goals is to make Russia less dependent on commodities and build an innovative, knowledge-based economy."
To many, however, the prospect of the wounded Russian bear - assailed by financial crises and economic sanctions - finding the resources and the willpower to revive its once-great academy looks increasingly doubtful.
COPYRIGHT © 2015 TES GLOBAL LTD.
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Nature / 26 January 2015
Russian science minister explains radical restructure
Amid sanctions and a financial crisis, Dmitry Livanov discusses ongoing reforms to science funding.
Министр образования и науки РФ Дмитрий Ливанов рассказывает о реформах, проводимых в области финансирования науки, текущем кризисе, международном сотрудничестве и будущем ученых страны.
Once a scientific powerhouse, Russia has experienced over the past 25 years a dramatic decline of its research and development capacities and is now lagging far behind other industrialized nations in terms of scientific output. And in the past year, Russia's economy has suffered multiple blows, including Western sanctions following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the collapse of the price of oil and gas, the principal sources of income for the government. Researchers in and outside the country have fretted about the implications for Russian research and its role in international collaborations.
In particular, Russia is a partner in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) collaboration with CERN, the European particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, and contributes to several major research facilities under construction. These include the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) in Hamburg, Germany; the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) in Darmstadt, Germany; and ITER, the experimental nuclear-fusion reactor in Cadarache, France. Meanwhile, the country has embarked on a radical but controversial restructuring of the way it funds research. Nature talked to Dmitry Livanov, the Russian Federation's minister of education and science, about the current crisis and the future of the country's scientists.
Do you fear that the current geopolitical tensions and Western sanctions imposed on Russia might harm existing collaborations in science?
In the present situation, the international cooperation in science is of growing importance for us - even more so now than it was a year ago. There are questions that need to be addressed, but they are mainly related to the transfer of modern technology and purchasing of new equipment. However, ongoing projects such as the LHC, the XFEL, FAIR and ITER will be continued.
Moreover, the Russian Federation will participate in the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, an international consortium in Grenoble, France. Our country annually allocates significant financial resources to these projects. In addition, support is planned for research in promising areas of multilateral cooperation within the framework of the European Horizon 2020 programme, including its Future Emerging Technologies and ERA-NET projects. The programme will start next year, and we expect significant developments in international cooperation as a result of its implementation.
How severely are the current recession and the weak rouble affecting science and science funding in Russia, for instance through the rise in the costs of imported lab equipment?
There will be no substantial reductions in the level of science funding caused by the current economic situation. For example, the allocations for the national programme of basic scientific research are at the level of 834 billion roubles (US$13 billion) for the period up to 2020. Moreover, the redistribution of resources to favour interdisciplinary research will allow us to increase the return on investment and will stimulate breakthrough ideas and technological advances. As far as the increased cost of Western laboratory equipment is concerned, reasonable optimization of the current cost structure will help to solve this problem too. I strongly believe that scientific cooperation should not depend on temporary changes in the economic and political situation. After all, the generation of new knowledge and technologies is a mutually beneficial process.
The Russian government has since 2010 issued "megagrants" that have attracted a number of top scientists, many from abroad, to do research at Russian universities. Will the programme be continued?
We intend to continue this programme. We consider it a unique tool for the development of university research: leading international researchers invest their talent and energy over several years to create a brand scientific entity - a research laboratory, equipped with top-of-the line equipment purchased with fullsupport from the host institution. The results that we have received so far are impressive: 144 laboratories with a total workforce of more than 4,000 scientists have been created in 50 top Russian universities; 1,825 scientific papers have been published, with more than 800 in scientific journals indexed in the Web of Science; and 500 objects of intellectual property have been created.
Only 4 of the 144 megagrants went to principal investigators who were female scientists. How do you hope to increase the participation of women in any future research funding schemes?
Women, unfortunately, were less involved in the megagrant programme at the application stage, submitting just over 5% of applications. Projects selected for support are chosen not on the basis of gender, but on the basis of scientific quality as a result of international peer review. I believe that science has no sex, nation of origin or age. If you are a world-class researcher, in Russia you can always get support for your ideas.
The Russian Academy of Sciences, which employs the majority of researchers in Russia, was recently overhauled. What role will it have in the future?
The new legislation states that the academy will be primarily engaged in providing expert advice. The whole system of research institutes, which in the past decades belonged to the Russian academies - of sciences, of medical sciences and of agricultural science (more than 1,000 institutes in total), is now under the governance of a special federal agency.
The government has recently set up a funding agency for basic research, the Russian Science Foundation (RNF). Do you intend to expand the proportion of science funding that is assigned through competitive grants?
Yes, the expansion of the spectrum of competitive-funding mechanisms is a priority area for us. The transition to a competitive grant-funding system has already occurred in federal target programmes and in the distribution of state-assigned research programmes.
Projects funded in the first call for proposals by the RNF were not reviewed by international experts. Do you think that international expertise could be helpful in the future in selecting the most promising research ideas?
We are constantly working to improve the quality of proposal reviews. There is no doubt that involving international experts could positively influence the project-review process, especially in areas where Russia is lagging behind. The RNF plans to invite foreign experts for proposal evaluation, and these plans will be implemented in the near future.
Are there special funds for early-career researchers in the RNF?
This year, the RNF is launching a special programme to support postdocs. Additionally, the 'regular' RNF grants have as a compulsory requirement the participation of young scientists - and at least 25% of each grant must be spent on young researchers' salaries. In principle, we plan to create separate competitions for young scientists in every programme supported by existing Russian agencies funding scientific research. And starting this year, in addition to grants to support postdocs, we will provide short- to medium-term internships that will increase academic mobility.
Without the new generation of scientists, science has no future.
© 2015 Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.
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Phys.Org / Jan 26, 2015
Winters in Siberian permafrost regions have warmed since millenia
В последние 7000 лет зимние температуры в сибирских областях вечной мерзлоты постепенно повышались. Ученые из Института полярных и морских исследований им. Альфреда Вегенера (Германия) и кафедры геокриологии МГУ (Россия) пришли к такому выводу, изучив ледяные клинья в дельте Лены, некоторым из которых более 100 000 лет.
Статья "Long-term winter warming trend in the Siberian Arctic during the mid- to late Holocene" опубликована на сайте журнала Nature Geoscience.
For the first time, researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute have successfully decoded climate data from old permafrost ground ice and reconstructed the development of winter temperatures in Russia's Lena River Delta. Their conclusions: over the past 7,000 years, winter temperatures in the Siberian permafrost regions have gradually risen. The study will be published today on Nature Geoscience's website.
You won't find any glaciers in Russia's Lena River Delta. Unlike in Antarctica or Greenland, in the Siberian tundra ice doesn't form above ground on hillsides or elevated plains. Rather, it forms directly underground as ice wedges.
"Ice wedges are a typical feature of permafrost regions. They are formed when the permanently frozen soil contracts in response to intensively cold winter temperatures, causing it to crack. When the snow melts in spring, the melt water fills these cracks. Since the ground temperature is roughly minus ten degrees Celsius, the water refreezes immediately. If this process repeats itself winter after winter, over the decades and centuries an ice body shaped like a giant wedge is formed," explains Dr Hanno Meyer, a permafrost researcher at the AWI Potsdam and first author of the study.
With a depth of up to 40 metres and a width of up to six metres, the ice wedges of the Siberian Arctic may not be as physically impressive as Antarctic glaciers. However the ice wedges, some of which are more than 100,000 years old, store climate information in much the same way, allowing scientists to investigate them using glacier research methods. "The melt water always comes from the snowfall of a single winter. Therefore, when it freezes in these frost cracks, information on the winter temperatures in that specific year is also preserved. We have now succeeded for the first time in using oxygen isotope analysis to access the temperature information stored in the ice and compile it into a climate curve for the past 7,000 years," states AWI researcher and co-author Dr Thomas Opel.
The new information represents the first well dated winter-temperature data from the Siberian permafrost regions and indicates a clear trend: "Over the past 7,000 years, the winters in the Lena River Delta have steadily warmed - a trend we haven't seen in almost any other Arctic climate archive," says Hanno Meyer. As the permafrost expert explains, the likely reason is: "To date, primarily fossilised pollen, diatoms and tree rings from the Arctic have been used to reconstruct the climate of the past. But they mostly record temperature information from the summer, when the plants grow and bloom. Ice wedges are among the few archives that can exclusively record winter data."
Further, the new data will allow the researchers to fill an important gap: "Most climate models indicate a long-term cooling in the summer and long-term warming in the winter for the Arctic over the past 7,000 years. But until now, there has been no temperature data to support the second claim, essentially because the majority of climate archives record information from the summer. Now we can finally demonstrate that ice wedges contain similar winter-temperature information as predicted by climate models," says AWI modeller and co-author Dr Thomas Laepple.
At this point, the researchers can't exactly determine yet how many degrees the Arctic winters have warmed. As Thomas Opel explains, "The results of the oxygen isotope analysis can only tell us whether and how the isotopic composition has changed. If it rises, it indicates a warming. But the exact extent of warming is something we can't yet make a statement on."
Nevertheless, the researchers found clear indications for the causes of this warming.
According to Hanno Meyer: "The curve shows a clear partitioning. Up to the dawn of industrialisation around 1850, we can attribute the development to changes in the Earth's position relative to the sun. In other words, the duration and intensity of the solar radiation increased from winter to winter, causing temperatures to rise. But with industrialisation and the strong increase in the emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, this was supplemented by the anthropogenic greenhouse effect. Starting at that point, our data curve shows a major increase that clearly differs from the gradual warming in the previous phase."
In a next step, the researchers will investigate whether the same indicators for a gradual rise in winter temperatures in the Arctic can also be found in other permafrost regions around the globe. As Thomas Opel elaborates: "We already have data from an area 500 kilometres east of the Lena River Delta that supports our findings. But we don't know how it looks for example in the Canadian Arctic. We suppose the development was similar there, but don't yet have evidence to back up that assumption."
The data for the new Lena River Delta temperature curve comes from 42 ice samples, which AWI researchers collected over the course of several expeditions from 13 ice wedges that the river had uncovered during flooding. "For the purposes of the study, we only included samples for which we could clearly determine the age. Fortunately, for ice wedges this is relatively simple as a large number of plant remains and other organic material enters the ground ice during snow melt- and we can use the radiocarbon method to precisely determine the age of this material," says Hanno Meyer.
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Worldcrunch / 2015-01-29
Why Russia Is Abandoning the International Space Station
With its programs aging, Russia has announced that it's pulling out of the International Space Station in 2020. Where does that leave space exploration for the rest of the world?
Остается открытым вопрос, что будет с Международной космической станцией, если Россия действительно выйдет из проекта в 2020 г. США готовы продолжать работу, но поддерживать только одну секцию МКС, изначально задуманной как единый организм, практически невозможно. Нет также четкого представления о том, куда двигаться дальше в освоении космоса.
MOSCOW - An alarm went off in the American section of the International Space Station (ISS) on Jan. 14, warning that ammonia, which is used to cool the space station's energy system, had leaked into the atmosphere. Without it, the station would blow up like a can of food placed on an open flame. Following instructions, the three American astronauts fled to the safety of the Russian section, joining three astronauts there. It turned out that the space station's atmospheric monitoring system was simply malfunctioning.
A similar incident had happened before, in May 2013, when the astronauts spent six hours trying to find the problem. "A sensor that goes off erroneously is a signal that the space station can't stay in use forever," explains Andrei Ionin, an expert in space technology at the Academy of Astronautical Science. "At the beginning, the International Space Station was supposed to work through 2015 - that is, until about right now. There was good reason for deciding on that period of time, since the various systems on board have a certain guaranteed length of service."
The number of malfunctions and errors will only increase from now on, which is among the reasons why Russia's decision to pull out of the ISS in 2020 was a wise one, Ionin says.
There have been other problems too. In August, and again in September, the station launched several micro-satellites on its own because of a system malfunction. Yuri Karash, a Russian space policy and rocket systems expert, says these kinds of non-programmed actions on the part of the onboard computer was one of the key reasons why the Mir Space Station was retired.
"The oxygen system and the onboard computers break down on the International Space Station relatively regularly," Karash says. "Theoretically, they can be fixed. But what can't be is the wear on the metal the station is made of. There are micro-fissures in the module walls, and air is starting to leak out."
Karash says that a space station that endlessly circles the earth, that has already been in use for decades, reminds him of running in place. "It was never going to pay for itself in an economic sense, but now it doesn't pay for itself in a scientific sense," he says. "We don't have anything new to do in orbit. Or on the moon, for that matter: 12 Americans have already been there and brought back 400 kilos of rocks and soil. Today we should only go forward - and that means to Mars."
What to do in orbit?
Initially, a space station in orbit was considered nothing more than a stopping point, a place for humankind to launch its conquest of the heavens. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Polish-Russian rocket science who is considered one of the founding fathers of astronautic theory, left many drawings of cylindrical orbit stations, where hundreds of engineers were supposed to live among greenhouses and assemble spaceships for longer flights.
The Soviet Union launched its first orbit station in 1971, after an unsuccessful attempt to reach the moon. At the time, the scientists were interested both in the technical aspects of the trip and in seeing how human beings held up over extended stays in space.
There was serious concern, for example, about astronauts' psychological state in space. When Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit earth in 1961, he had to do a simple logic task before he could control the spaceship's brakes, to make sure that he was still capable of thinking straight.
It turns out that these fears are well-founded, and there would be a similar problem on the route to Mars, where strong cosmic radiation would likely affect the human nervous system about halfway there. But we have been able to solve many riddles related to the cosmos, developing a whole field of science about how to survive in space and discovering where it is simply impossible to do so.
Just a decade after Gagarin's flight, reaching orbit began to seem mundane, and scientists were saying that we needed to go further. It just wasn't clear to where. And then the money ran out. So it was only logical to support the International Space Station, where it has been possible to carry out myriad scientific experiments, from micro-gravity environments to cultivating bacteria on the station's exterior.
"All of the participants in the International Space Station got what they wanted from it in the beginning," says Andrei Ionin. "In the 1990s, Russia couldn't have started a new project like the International Space Station on its own, and it was able to continue its space presence thanks to the ISS. Our Western partners were able to get access to unique technology and techniques at minimal expense."
Whither the ISS?
What will happen to the International Space Station now is an open question. The United States has said it is willing to support the work of the ISS even after Russia leaves the project in 2020. But experts say that's not realistic: They would have to learn to use the Russian technology, which is almost impossible, and it's not possible to maintain only one section of the station.
"The International Space Station was created as an integrated organism, because no one thought that one country might abandon the project," Karash says. "The American section depends on the Russian section to control the station's movement, and the Russian section depends on the American section's energy system. It would be easier to build a new station than to break up the International Space Station."
There's also no clear idea of where to go next in space exploration. Vice Premier Dmitrii Rogozin, who is responsible for the Russian space program, is convinced that we should build yet another orbiting station. The government also considers colonization of the moon important. When it comes to the moon, Russia has concrete plans: to launch two landing vessels and one satellite in the next five years.
The third priority Rogozin has mentioned is a trip to Mars. In one recent interview, he suggested throwing all of the space program's resources into developing an asteroid protection system for earth and looking for aliens. The lack of focus in Russia's space plans is disquieting, but experts say we aren't the only ones in this situation.
"The Americans won't leave the International Space Station, in my opinion, because they simply don't know how else to move forward with manned space exploration," Ionin says. "That's where this 'either the moon, or Mars, or to the asteroids' mentality comes from. The truth is that any of those projects would require at least doubling NASA's budget, and the American government is not planning to do that, because it doesn't see how that massive investment will lead to success."
Ionin speculates that the United States is taking a strategic break and is waiting for initiatives from the private sector, especially from Elon Musk's SpaceX. "When Musk focuses his project - I think he'll need another two or three years - then we'll see what direction the American space program is headed," he says. "But Russia, I think, will announce its priorities in space exploration this year."
© WORLDCRUNCH 2014 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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Smithsonian / January 30, 2015
Scientists Try Out 2,300-Year-Old Brain Surgery Techniques
Experiments conducted by a Siberian research team shed light on the neurosurgical methods evident in three Iron Age skulls.
Исследовав найденные на Алтае черепа со следами удачной трепанации (возрастом примерно 2,5 тысячи лет), ученые из Института археологии и этнографии СО РАН совместно с новосибирскими нейрохирургами определили, какими инструментами пользовались пазырыкские медики, и как проходила сама операция.
Between 2,300 and 2,500 years ago, up in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, a man sustained a serious head injury. It's believed that head injury left him with a blood clot between his brain and his skull. Afterwards, likely, he would have had intense headaches and movement problems. He would have vomited, more than a person should. And so, perhaps in an effort to cure him, without any of the knowledge or tools available to modern neurosurgeons, a large hole was chiseled into his skull.
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Despite that, with a lasting hole in his head, the man survived.
We know this because his skull, discovered in Siberia last year, shows signs of healing over the broken bones. It was found and analyzed along with two other skulls from the same era that also show signs of trepanation, the oldest known form of neurosurgery. Now, as reported by the Siberian Times, a team of neurosurgeons, anthropologists and archeologists say that - thanks to a series of hands-on experiments - they have a clearer image of just how such early medical feats were accomplished.
The team from the Russian Academy of Science's Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography first studied each skull under a microscope to deduce the instrument likely used to detach pieces of bone. They ultimately concluded that a single kind of tool - a bronze knife - was employed to make the holes in two stages, explains the Siberian Times, quoting neurosurgeon Aleksei Krivoshapkin:
First, a sharp cutting tool removed the surface layer of bone carefully without perforating the skull itself. Then, with short and frequent movements a hole was cut into the skull.
Professor Krivoshapkin said: "All three trepanations were performed by scraping. From the traces on the surface of the studied skulls, you can see the sequence of actions of the surgeons during the operations. It is clearly seen that the ancient surgeons were very exact and confident in their moves, with no traces of unintentionally chips, which are quite natural when cutting bone."
An archeologist made a replica of the kind of knife likely used. Next, Krivoshapkin attempted to replicate the 2,300-year-old surgery using a modern-day skull (no longer attached to a person, of course). According to The Siberian Times, it took him 28 minutes and some considerable elbow grease to accomplish the task, but the results "were found to mirror those found in the ancient patients."
The team notes that the people of the Pazyryk tribe, to which the Altai Mountain skulls belonged, were skilled in working with animal bones to make different tools and objects. That knowledge likely aided them in their surgical attempts on humans, though archeologists involved think the culture may have also been aided by some of the medical teachings coming from ancient Greece.
While scientists now better understand the techniques of early trepanation in Siberia, there's one question left unanswered: did the ancient patients have any kind of anesthesia to help them through the no doubt agonizing experience of having their heads cut open? We can hope they did, but bone samples don't offer conclusive insight into such mysteries.
Le Parisien / 31 Janv. 2015
Moscou : le feu ravage la plus grande bibliothèque universitaire de Russie
Cette bibliothèque abrite l'une des collections les plus riches du monde de livres en langues slaves ainsi que des documents officiels en provenance du Royaume-Uni, d'Italie ou encore des Etats-Unis.
В ночь с 30 на 31 января в Москве начался пожар в библиотеке Института научной информации по общественным наукам (ИНИОН). По предварительным данным, пострадало около 15% фонда.
C'est un "Tchernobyl" culturel pour le monde scientifique. De nombreux documents historiques sont partis en fumée, ou ont été fortement endommagés, dans un incendie qui a ravagé samedi la plus grande bibliothèque universitaire de Russie.
Situé au sud de Moscou, l'Institut d'information scientifique des sciences humaines (Inion), créé en 1918, abrite l'une des collections les plus riches du monde de livres en langues slaves ainsi que des documents officiels en provenance du Royaume-Uni, d'Italie ou encore des Etats-Unis et rassemble plus de 10 millions de documents historiques (livres, journaux, etc.) datant du XVIe au XXe siècles et rédigés en plusieurs langues.
Plus de 200 pompiers mobilisés
L'incendie a commencé vendredi vers 22h00 heure locale (20 heures, heure française) au deuxième étage du bâtiment. Malgré plus de 200 pompiers mobilisés, l'incendie s'est poursuivi toute la journée de samedi. Selon les secours, il n'avait toujours pas été complètement éteint dans la soirée.
Au départ, les flammes n'avaient dévasté qu'une partie du bâtiment en béton abritant des bureaux et non les livres eux-mêmes. Les responsables de la bibliothèque avaient d'abord assuré que les documents n'étaient pas en danger. Mais l'ampleur du sinistre, qui a provoqué l'effondrement du toit sur 1 000 m2, les a rendus ensuite plus alarmistes. Il était impossible d'évacuer les livres en raison de sources de chaleur trop importantes à l'intérieur du bâtiment.
"Une perte énorme"
Au final, la bibliothèque a été ravagée par les flammes sur près de 2000 m2 et plus de 15% des documents auraient subi des dégâts.
"C'est une grande perte pour la science : il s'agit de la plus vaste collection de ce type dans le monde, équivalente, probablement, à la bibliothèque du Congrès" américain à Washington, s'est désolé le président de l'Académie des Sciences, Vladimir Fortov.
"On trouve ici des documents impossibles à trouver ailleurs, tous les instituts de sciences humaines utilisent cette bibliothèque. Ce qui s'est passé rappelle Tchernobyl" la catastrophe nucléaire qui s'est produite en Ukraine en 1986, a-t-il poursuivi. "Notre tâche sera de les restaurer, les technologies existent pour cela" a-t-il promis.
© Le Parisien.
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