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    Mongabay / 4 September 2019
    "Holy grail": Nest of extremely rare bird captured on video in Russia
    • By Shreya Dasgupta
    На Дальнем Востоке орнитологам Института водных и экологических проблем ДВО РАН впервые удалось заснять на видео гнездовье редкой птицы - охотского улита (Tringa guttifer), занесенного в Красную книгу как находящегося под угрозой исчезновения.

In June this year, researchers surveying a remote part of the Russian Far East finally managed to find what they had been looking for: a Nordmann’s greenshank sitting on a nest, up on a branch of a larch tree.
The discovery was particularly special. The Nordmann’s greenshank (Tringa guttifer) is an extremely rare species of migratory shorebird that breeds in small, isolated parts of eastern Russia, then spends the rest of the year migrating south through various Asian countries, before flying back. It’s a difficult bird to spot in general, but its nests have proven especially elusive for those studying the birds for more than 40 years.
Now, researchers have captured the first-ever footage of a nesting Nordmann’s greenshank.
Finding the nest "was definitely the highlight of the entire expedition," Philipp Maleko, a graduate student at the University of Florida who was assisting with the survey, told Mongabay.
But it wasn’t easy. The team, led by Vladimir Pronkevich of the Institute of Aquatic and Ecological Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences, had spent several weeks following and observing Nordmann’s greenshanks on mudflats in the Bay of Sсhastye, in the southwestern corner of the Sea of Okhotsk in the Russian Far East. At some point during their survey, they noticed that a pair of greenshanks would keep flying off into a bog that had patches of larch forests (Larix spp). They kept watch at different sections of the bog, and finally zeroed in on the forest stand the birds would repeatedly visit.
Once inside, they noticed a Nordmann’s greenshank perched on a branch of a larch tree. When they approached the medium-sized sandpiper cautiously to see how it would react, it didn’t fly off very far, Maleko said, suggesting that the area could be part of its territory and that there was a nest somewhere nearby. "We carefully searched every tree limb, every nook and cranny, every crevice until we spotted a Nordmann’s greenshank sitting on a nest," he said. "We were all jubilant, yet remained calm as to not flush the bird off the nest."
The Nordmann’s greenshank, also called the spotted greenshank, is among the most threatened migratory shorebirds in the world. With fewer than 2,000 individuals estimated to live in the wild today, the species is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Much of the bird’s life, both in Russia and in parts of Asia, however, remains a mystery.
"Almost nothing is known about their breeding ecology, which makes this new discovery so important," Pronkevich, who has been studying the Nordmann’s greenshank in Russia for decades, said in a statement.
Nests of the bird could have previously gone undetected because of various reasons, Jonathan Slaght, the Russia and Northeast Asia coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which partly supported the study, told Mongabay in an email.
While the birds forage along the coast where they can be seen more easily from boats, they go deep into larch forests in very remote locations to nest. In those areas, there are bears and an inhospitable landscape to deal with, which makes getting to the nests a logistical challenge. Numbers of the Nordmann’s greenshank are also declining, which "means that, even if researchers can reach the proper habitat to look for a nest, there may no longer be any birds there," Slaght said.
"Plenty of Russian scientists have documented evidence of breeding - displaying adults and downy chicks - so the overall distribution of breeding Nordmann’s greenshanks is relatively well known, but the nests themselves have proven elusive for the reasons listed above," Slaght added.
The last person to have observed a Nordmann’s greenshank nesting, some four decades back, was Russian ornithologist Vitalii Nechaev, Slaght said, who saw the bird actually building a nest by breaking twigs from trees and placing them on a branch.
In fact, building nests in trees makes the Nordmann’s greenshank stand out among other sandpipers, which usually nest on the ground on beaches. Only two other sandpiper species, the green sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) and the solitary sandpiper (Tringa solitaria), are known to nest in trees. But even these two species tend to use old nests of songbirds and other species, Slaght said, and not build one from scratch like the Nordmann’s greenshank has been observed to do.
The nest that Pronkevich, Maleko and Konstantin Maslovskii, a junior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, observed in June, however, failed, with at least two eggs having been eaten by crows.
Despite this, the team isn’t disappointed. The first-ever video of the nesting greenshank aside, they captured the first color photos of an incubating adult, and the first vocalizations of chicks. The researchers also captured seven adult greenshanks and eight chicks, attached tiny, unique bands on their legs, and released them. The bands will help track each individual bird as they fly across Asia and back.
By early August, birdwatchers in Shanghai, China, had already seen three of the banded adults, some 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) to the south. The researchers say that most Nordmann’s greenshanks will continue to travel another 3,000 kilometers to Thailand and Malaysia for the winter, with some returning to the Bay of Sсhastye next spring.
Maleko and his colleagues say they hope their study will help them identify key breeding, migratory and wintering sites of the greenshank.
"This identification will allow us to assist in the conservation and protection of sites necessary for the Nordmann’s greenshank’s survival," Maleko said. "The 2019 season gave us an extraordinary amount of new information about their nesting ecology; and on different methods of capture, methods that are certain to work in the future if additional tagging is undertaken."
Conservation of a rare, migratory species like the Nordmann’s greenshank is a huge challenge, though. A study published in 2018 found that most of the Nordmann’s greenshank population winters in Thailand and Malaysia, with smaller numbers in Myanmar and Sumatra. Most of the sites in which they occur are unprotected. The species also passes through numerous other countries, including mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, North Korea, India, and Sri Lanka, and is known to winter in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
The birds spend different amounts of time in these countries, where they are governed by different laws, Slaght said. Moreover, while some of the biggest threats to the greenshank in Southeast Asia are illegal hunting and the loss of coastal wetland habitat, the type and extent of threats differ across countries and sites.
The key to protecting the Nordmann’s greenshank, Slaght said, would be to understand where the birds occur and which threats they face in those places. As for the breeding grounds in Russia, researchers need to learn more about their breeding ecology to start identifying threats, he added.
A lot of questions remain unanswered. But for now, the video of the greenshank nest has conservationists excited.
"For Asian waterbird conservationists and many birdwatchers, the nest of a Nordmann’s greenshank is akin to a Holy Grail or a white whale: something mysterious that you know exists, is somewhere out there, but remains hidden," Slaght said. "In today’s world, where access to information is instant, it is refreshing to know that something like a sandpiper has been able to guard its secret from us for so long. But now that Pronkevich, Maleko, and Maslovskii know what to look for, I think they will find more nests and we can finally begin to piece together the nesting ecology of this enigmatic species."

© 2019 Copyright Conservation news.
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    Nature / 05 September 2019
    Lost Denisovan bone reveals surprisingly human-like finger
    Photos of missing fossil show these ancient hominins had slimmer digits than their Neanderthal relatives.
    • Ewen Callaway
    В журнале Science Advances опубликована статья французских, канадских и российских (ИАиЭт СО РАН, НГУ, АлтГУ) ученых с результатами последнего анализа фрагмента пальца денисовского человека. Строение этой части тела оказалось больше похоже на современного человека, чем на неандертальца, хотя генетически денисовцы ближе именно к последним.

A new analysis of a finger bone used to study the Denisovans - a mysterious group of ancient humans discovered in 2010 - offers clues to a decade-long mystery surrounding one the most important human fossils ever found.
The study describes a piece of the tip of a right-hand little finger that was separated from the rest of the finger bone after it was excavated 11 years ago. A digital reconstruction of the complete finger bone, or phalanx, reveals that the Denisovan’s fingers were far more similar to those of modern humans than previously thought.
"I’m happy that we could get something out," says Eva-Maria Geigl, a palaeogeneticist at the Institute Jacques Monod in Paris, who led the study. "So far there was nothing, as if the phalanx was lost."
Her team sequenced DNA from the missing fragment to show it matched the rest of the fingertip bone, and used photographs to digitally reunite the two pieces. The work was published on 4 September in Science Advances.
"It’s not going to revolutionize our knowledge of Denisovan morphology, but it adds a little piece," says Bence Viola, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Toronto in Canada who was part of the team.
Denisovan discovery
The mystery surrounding the lost piece began in a remote valley at the foot of the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia, where Russian archaeologists excavating Denisova Cave discovered a finger bone belonging to an ancient group of humans in 2008. Anatoly Derevianko, who is an archaeologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk and was leading the dig, decided to divide the little-finger bone and send the pieces to two labs to see whether DNA could be extracted from either half.
Svante Pääbo, an evolutionary geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, received one of the fragments. After his team sequenced its DNA and discovered that it belonged to a lineage distinct from modern humans or Neanderthals, Pääbo and several colleagues flew to Novosibirsk in January 2010.
That’s when Derevianko told Pääbo's team that he had divided the bone in two and sent the other half to Edward Rubin, a geneticist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) in California, whose team had been competing with Paabo’s to sequence Neanderthal DNA.
"We freaked out a bit," remembers Viola, who joined Pääbo on the trip. "We had no idea there was this second part."
Worried about getting scooped, Pääbo's team raced to report their discovery. They published the fossil’s mitochondrial genome in March 2010 and, several months later, the first complete nuclear genome of a Denisovan. Their studies showed that Denisovans were a group of extinct hominins more closely related to Neanderthals than modern humans, and that they lived in the Siberian cave - and probably across Asia - more than 30,000 years ago.
The 2010 discovery transformed the cave into one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. Researchers have since found more ancient human bones in the cave, including the stunning discovery of a first-generation hybrid which had a Neanderthal mother and Denisovan father.
But Viola - who has analysed nearly every Denisovan fossil from the cave - says he never forgot about the second finger bone fragment. "I’ve been wondering the whole time what the other half would have looked like," he says. "All I knew is that it was in Berkeley."
Revisiting old bones
According to Geigl, Rubin, who left LBL in 2016 for industry and could not be reached for comment, sent his half of the fossil to her lab in 2010. Pääbo's team had already published the fossil’s mitochondrial genome - a short stretch of maternally inherited DNA that harbours limited ancestry information. But Geigl hoped to obtain nuclear DNA from the fossil, which could indicate much more about its relationship to humans and Neanderthals.
Initial efforts to extract DNA from the bone failed, so Geigl’s team worked on developing other methods. But after Pääbo's team published the Denisovan nuclear genome, Rubin asked for the fossil to be sent back. Geigl returned the fragment in 2011, but was able to sample its DNA and take detailed photographs first.
Geigl sat on the data for years, but in 2016 she decided to publish them at the suggestion of Pääbo. Her team sequenced the mitochondrial genome of the sample and discovered - unsurprisingly - that it exactly matched the sequence Pääbo's team published in 2010. But a digital reconstruction of the complete finger bone held a surprise: its slim shape was more like those of modern humans than the stout fingers of Neanderthals, even though Denisovans and Neanderthals are closer relatives. The few other Denisovan remains that have been discovered, including large molar teeth, tend not to resemble those of modern humans.
"Given the limited skeletal remains definitively associated with Denisovans, this is an important discovery," says Tracy Kivell, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Kent, UK, who was not involved in the study. The slender shape of the Denisovan finger also suggests that Neanderthals’ burlier fingers may have evolved as a result of strenuous use of their hands, she adds.
While the story of the missing fragment has become clearer, its current whereabouts are still unknown. According to Derevianko, Rubin sent the sample to the ancient-DNA lab of Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen and the Danish Museum of Natural History in 2011 or 2012. Willerlsev did not respond to requests for comment by Nature’s news team.
Pääbo's team had to grind up their piece of the bone to produce a high-quality genome sequence, and Geigl is unsure if the half she analysed is also gone. "It’s like a Sherlock Holmes story," she says.

© 2019 Springer Nature Publishing AG.
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    The National Interest / September 10, 2019
    This Was Russia's Sad Attempt to Build a Space Shuttle
    It was a good attempt that was sabotaged due to really bad timing.
    • By Kyle Mizokami
    Попытка создать первый советский шаттл «Буран» почти увенчалась успехом. Но время было выбрано неудачно - в Советском Союзе уже начинался серьезный экономический спад, ставший в конечном итоге фатальным.

The Buran program, which once involved the hard work of so many talented individuals and so much of the USSR’s treasure, is now a footnote in space history.
The intense rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union pushed the two countries to compete, not only on Earth but throughout the solar system. Good ideas, or perhaps more accurately good ideas at the time, were frequently imitated as long as they garnered prestige for Washington or Moscow. Of all the ideas that were copied during the Space Race, none were as curious - and blatant - as the Soviet Space Shuttle.
The American Space Shuttle program was designed to create a spacecraft that could act as an inexpensive, reusable connector between Earth and low Earth orbit. The shuttle was capable of carrying military and civilian payloads into space, acting as a laboratory for science experiments, and ferrying crews and visitors to orbiting space stations. The reusable nature of the shuttle program, which had named spaceships that carried out dozens of missions during their lifetimes, was a source of great pride for the United States and an example of American "soft" power.
The temptation for the Soviet Union to create a shuttle system of its own was too great, and work began in the mid 1970s, before the American spaceplane even flew. Moscow also had a practical, direct reason to build a reusable space plane: its Salyut series of space stations, and later the Mir space station, would benefit from having an inexpensive transport system capable of resupplying and even expanding the country’s semipermanent outposts in space.
Moscow had known for years that Washington had been tinkering with winged, reusable spacecraft. Designs such as the X-20 Dyna-Soar had tipped America’s hand. The Space Shuttle project was approved in 1969, boosted by NASA’s success with the Apollo moon landing. That the Soviet space program didn’t immediately embark on its own shuttle program is curious; it may have had reservations about the technical feasibility of a reusable space plane.
By 1976, the Americans already had two shuttles under construction - the prototype Enterprise and the first fully operational shuttle, Columbia. The Soviet leadership, perhaps buoyed by American confidence in the project, authorized the Buran ("Snowstorm") program in February 1976. The Buran program was actually a two-part program, to develop the space plane itself - also named Buran - and a new booster, Energia, that would carry it into space. The Energia rocket was designed by NPO Energia to function as both a heavy lifter and carry the spaceplane into orbit.
Energia was designed to be a two stage rocket, with the first stage consisting of four RD-170 booster rockets and a core stage of four RD-0120 engines. The rocket had an overall mass of 5.3 million pounds, and could lift an amazing (at the time) 110 tons into low earth orbit. Energia’s first flight, on March 15, 1987 was to carry the Polyus-Skif experimental laser weapon into space. While the launch itself was successful, Polyus-Skif inadvertently pitched itself in the wrong direction, crashing back into the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile, engineers proceeded with work on the Soviet shuttle. The two spacecraft were externally identical, both in dimensions and key features. Buran had the same delta wing at the same angle, the same shaped nose and the same orbital thrusters in the nose and other key locations. The Soviet program had the benefit of American shuttle blueprints obtained by the KGB. At its peak, more than 150,0000 engineers, scientists and others worked on the Buran project.
One key difference: while the American Space Shuttle had three Space Shuttle main engines that would provide thrust at liftoff, Buran lacked main engines altogether. The Space Shuttle used a combination of these three engines and a pair of solid rocket boosters to achieve orbit. Buran, on the other hand, relied upon Energia to do all the heavy lifting. Buran was, for all intents and purposes, an unpowered glider, with only small thrusters to adjust its orbit in space.
Another difference between the two craft was that while the American shuttle would actually be flown by an astronaut pilot during reentry, the Soviet Shuttle would land entirely on autopilot.
The first Buran launch was scheduled for October 29, 1988. It being a test flight, Buran didn’t carry any cosmonauts on board. A launch pad gantry failed to retract in time, causing the rocket computer to cancel the launch. The second attempt on November 15 was a success, and after a brief one-hour orbit, it successfully landed back in the Soviet Union - one second later than planned.
The Buran program was judged a success and would likely have continued had the Cold War carried on. Unfortunately, it suffered from poor timing: the Soviet Union had already begun a serious, ultimately fatal economic decline, and Buran never flew again. NPO Energia did not survive the collapse of the USSR, and the remaining three shuttles were abandoned. Buran itself was destroyed at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in 2002 when the hangar housing it collapsed. Another shuttle is also located at Baikonur, and a third rests at Zhukovsky Air Base near Moscow. The Buran program, which once involved the hard work of so many talented individuals and so much of the USSR’s treasure, is now a footnote in space history.

© Copyright 2019 Center for the National Interest. All Rights Reserved.

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    Forbes / Sep 11, 2019
    Russia-Led Mission Might Shed Light On Venus' Odd Clockwise Rotation
    • Bruce Dorminey
    Запуск в ближайшее десятилетие станции «Венера-4» в рамках возглавляемого Россией международного проекта, возможно, поможет получить ответы на многие вопросы об этой странной планете. Например, почему, в отличие от большинства планет Солнечной системы, Венера вращается по часовой стрелке и делает это очень медленно.

As bizarre as Venus appears today - a hellish cloud-cloaked world of extraordinary surface pressures and surface temperatures not fit for man or beast - it is also one of only two full-sized planets in our solar system that rotates in a clockwise (or retrograde) manner. And it does so at a very slow rate; taking 243 Earth days to make one complete rotation.
With the exception of Venus and Uranus, why do planets in our solar system rotate counterclockwise?
Planet formation models show that most planets will end up spinning in a prograde (or counter-clockwise) direction. That’s largely due to how the planets gravitationally interacted during the earliest days of a forming solar system. The idea is that a protoplanetary disk’s direction of rotation around its protostar likely dictated that planets forming inside such disks also rotated in the same direction.
As to why would Venus rotate clockwise? Here are a couple of ideas.
It may have been hit early on by a large impactor.
It could be that a large impactor hit the planet in the late stages of its accretion and that either flipped the axis of the planet (as was probably the case for Uranus) or caused it to change its direction of rotation, Michael Way, a planetary scientist at The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, told me.
Many believe that if Venus was struck by a moon-like impactor then its moon should still be around, but clearly it’s not, says Way. So, one idea is that a second moon-like object came along and knocked the original Venusian moon out of its orbit. The two moons would have then gone sailing off into the Sun, he says.
"It’s rather unlikely, but not impossible," said Way.
Nobody has really done the heavy lifting to find out, he says because it is computationally expensive and there’s a dearth of Venus data.
Venus may have started out with prograde rotation, but then its spin axis may have flipped at some point in its history due to what is termed ‘core-mantle friction’.
Core mantle friction, literally the friction between a planet’s interior core and mantle, can slow its spin rate and even affect its obliquity (or axial tilt). On Venus, such friction may have actually flipped the planet’s tilt by 180 degrees; keeping it there for perpetuity.
But whether Venus has ever experienced such core-mantle friction remains unknown.
As we find more and more exoplanets we will eventually start to collect statistics on their obliquities and rotation rates, says Way. Within the next decade or two, hopefully, that will enable researchers to produce some statistically meaningful hypotheses, he says.
Way says the fact that Venus is spinning slowly is perhaps more important than whether it spins retrograde or prograde. That’s because the rate of rotation may play a key role in the climates of planets that receive higher amounts of their parent stars’ radiation.
However, Way says the only mission in the foreseeable future that might help resolve this rotation mystery is the proposed Russian-led Venera-D mission which has been four years in planning and already has a joint (NASA/Roscosmos) Science Definition Team (JSDT). Way will be in Moscow in October to present his ideas on potential Venera-D science goals and landing sites. The mission would likely touch down on one of Venus’ large volcanic plains.
"Thus far, NASA has only contributed funds for studying the mission and NASA's possible contribution to it," said Way. But he says NASA may contribute an instrument to the mission; perhaps a balloon-borne experiment or a surface station.
If Russia funds Venera-D and it sees launch within the next decade, the mission would try to assess Venus’ past and present habitability using an orbiter, a lander and one or more surface stations that may include seismic instruments. The idea is that the surface stations could survive surface pressures 93 times that of Earth and 864 degrees F. temperatures for perhaps as long as a couple of weeks.
If Venera-D were to find strange isotopic anomalies that can only be explained by an impactor, that might help solve Venus’ rotation mystery, says Way.
How much does rotation direction really matter?
Computer modeling of Earth’s own atmosphere shows that imposing a retrograde rotation on our own present-day planet would likely lead to large shifts in continental climates and in patterns of precipitation, the authors of a 2018 paper in the Journal of Earth System Dynamics note.
Would such large shifts in continental climate have made life more or less difficult to arise on ancient Earth?
We don’t know, says Way; we don’t even know when and where life began on Earth. As for when Venus’ own rotation mystery might actually be solved? Probably not until we have rovers on Venus with the same capabilities as the best ones currently running around Mars, says Way.
"We are probably decades [away] from having that sort of capability," he said.

© 2019 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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    Ancient Origins / 12 September, 2019
    Siberian Nomads Practiced High Tech Iron Smelting Much Earlier Than Thought
    Археологи из Томского государственного университета установили, что древние жители Алтая освоили технологию обработки железа на 300-400 лет раньше, чем было принято считать. Радиоуглеродный анализ железоплавильных печей кош-агачского типа, обнаруженных в Горном Алтае, показал, что появились они в III-IV веках н.э.

Tomsk State University archaeologists have obtained radiocarbon dating of the Kosh-Agach type iron-smelting furnaces found in the Altai Mountains, pre-dating them 300 to 400 years earlier, to the third to fourth centuries AD, before the Turkic Khanate was formed. These furnaces were previously ascribed to the ancient Turkic era of the 6th to 10th centuries. In the 1970s to 1980s a total of 15 Kosh-Agach type furnaces were opened in the Gorny Altai region. These are the largest furnaces of that era in all of Central Asia and they were associated with the first Turkic Khanate.
Paradigm Shift in Archaeometallurgy
In 2018, archaeologists from Tomsk State University in Russia conducted excavations of ancient iron smelting workshops on the banks of the Kuyakhtanar River. They used aerial photography and magnetic reconnaissance to detect furnaces and ore works. The dip-needle work helped to discover a furnace with excellent preservation that for the first time made it possible to completely restore the design and understand the ancient technology of smelting iron.
The work helped to reassess the dates of occurrence of these furnaces in Altai. "Radiocarbon dates showed that stoves of Kosh-Agach type appeared already in the third and fourth centuries AD. Very similar stoves are found later in Southeast Asia ", says Yevgeny Vodyasov, project manager, of the Laboratory of Social and Anthropological Research at the TSU Faculty of Historical and Political Studies. "The discovery causes a paradigm shift regarding the development of metallurgy. If such complex and productive furnaces appeared in Altai earlier than in Southeast Asia, we need to rethink existing ideas about the spread of technology. This can be greatly helped by research in the border areas of the Russian Altai of Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and China."
Capacity of Kosh-Agach Furnace
The average volume of Kosh-Agach-type furnaces is one cubic meter, the rectangular two-meters-by-one-meter (6.56 x 3.28 feet) above ground part is made of clay. The height of the remaining clay walls is 0.5 to 0.7 meters (1.64 - 2.29 feet). The subterranean part consists of a rectangular iron casting chamber about one meter (3.28 feet) deep which is lined with vertical stone slabs. A distinctive feature of these furnaces is eight to 11 holes on each wall. The furnace chamber is built at an angle to discharge liquid slag through an underground channel into a hillside pit. The remaining slag at the bottom of the furnace weighed more than 400 kilograms (881 pounds).
In the Kosh-Agach type furnaces, it was possible to produce an iron sheet weighing about one ton in one melting. A total of 1,500 kilograms (3306 pounds) of clay and stone slabs weighing 1,200 kilograms (2645 pounds) were used for the construction of the furnace.
Arming the Nomads
Nomads, moving across southern Siberia during the fourth to seventh centuries, were turned into warrior nations. Constant confrontations with neighbors, the need to recapture habitats for themselves and pastures that were suitable for wintering all necessitated military training. However, in addition to military skills and valor, the nomads were in need of another resource - weapons. The main material for its production was iron.
According to the historians and archaeologists, the explosive growth in the volumes of extraction and processing of iron in Tyva, Khakassia, Altai, and Mountain Shoria relates to this period. The mountainous regions rich in minerals quickly turned into a treasury. The "black gold" of the early Middle Ages was not oil, but iron.
The Tomsk University scientists presented the results of their work at the international conference on Archaeometallurgy in Europe 2019, in Miskolc (Hungary). Attended by scientists from Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Austria, France, and other countries, the TSU archaeologists were the only representatives from Siberia. In addition to the study of iron-smelting furnaces in the Gorny Altai, they discussed the features of metallurgy of the Kuznetsk Tatars and preliminary results of studies of the iron-smelting and forge coke heater in Gornaya Shoria.

Ancient Origins © 2013-2019.

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    Phys.Org / September 16th, 2019
    Russian scientists reconfigure the heat supply system in residential buildings
    В Южно-Уральском государственном университете разработали, запатентовали и опробовали на практике уникальный способ автоматического регулирования потребления тепловой энергии.

Scientists of South Ural State University have solved the problem of reducing electricity and gas costs in Russian homes by 10%. Enormous savings can be achieved by reconfiguring the automatic boiler controllers in a specific way. The development is patented and successfully tested in one of the residential complexes of Chelyabinsk (Russia).
Automatic regulators are used for regulating the temperature of the coolant in pipes and batteries, depending on the temperature of the external air and require competent settings in accordance with the characteristics of each residential complex. Most of the setup instructions are general, "abstract" in nature, which leads to a simplified control mode, in which the coolant temperature fluctuates in relation to the required by 5-10 °С. This increases energy and gas consumption in residential buildings.
SUSU scientists have patented a unique way to adjust the optimal ergonomic mode of operation of autoregulators (patent No. 166606) and implemented it in one of the modern residential complexes in Chelyabinsk.
"Many years of experience working with precise regulatory systems supported us to discover innovative technology. We introduced such regulation in a big residential complex in the city of Chelyabinsk, for 4 years we have been monitoring the consumption of resources, mainly gas. After adjusting the parameters of the regulator, the flow rate decreased by 10%. We developed our own methodology and achieved the best efficiency of the regulators we work with," says Vladimir Kodkin, the author of the patent, doctor of technical sciences, professor of the automated electric drive department of the SUSU Polytechnic Institute.
Oscillations in the temperature control system of the coolant, which is formed with the "factory" parameters of the regulators, significantly impair the operation of control systems and heating systems. In this case, the amplitude of the temperature fluctuation is up to 10 ° С, which leads to gas overconsumption of 10-15%. As a result of employing their own methodology for setting regulators, scientists were able to eliminate temperature fluctuations and reduce its amplitude from 10 °C to 1 °C. Today, electricity and gas consumption is reduced by 10%, but in the future this figure maybe 20-25%. Moreover, the new settings of the regulators will not have a negative impact on the quality of heating of residential buildings. The solution proposed by the scientific team does not require enormous financial costs and the installation of experimental specific equipment.
The university's industrial partner, which provided regulators for testing, was the largest Russian manufacturer of energy-saving equipment - Danfoss. In 2019, a framework agreement on cooperation was agreed between the enterprise and SUSU. Currently, proposals are being prepared for joint research in the field of optimization of heating systems.

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    EurekAlert / 23-Sep-2019
    Fullerene compounds knock out virus infections
    Ученые Сколтеха и Института проблем химической физики РАН в сотрудничестве с российскими и зарубежными коллегами нашли способ синтезировать водорастворимые производные фуллерена, эффективно подавляющие ряд вирусов, в том числе вирусы гриппа и вирус иммунодефицита человека.

Scientists from the Skoltech Center for Energy Science and Technology and the Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics of RAS in collaboration with researchers from four other Russian and foreign research centers have discovered a new reaction that helps obtain water-soluble fullerene derivatives which effectively combat flu viruses, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), and cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Viruses have been affecting social advancement over millennia, often causing vast epidemics wiping out entire cities. Viruses attack every living thing on Earth from higher vertebrates to simple, single-cell life forms, bacteria and even other viruses. Currently, over 90% of human infectious diseases are caused by viruses.
HIV that causes AIDS is one of the most dangerous viruses. According to WHO, the number of HIV-infected patients in Russia has already exceeded 1 million (about 1% of the population) and keeps soaring, making an HIV epidemic an ominous threat to the nation.
Global circulation of seasonal flu viruses that kill 500,000 people worldwide every year is yet another critical public health issue. New varieties of flu viruses often entail high mortality rates (up to 60% for H5N1 and H5N8 avian flu) and are highly resistant to existing drugs.
Modern antiviral drugs extend the lifespan and improve the quality of life, while having quite a few major flaws, such as toxicity, limited bioavailability and development of drug resistance. The circulating sets of flu strains change quickly, reducing the efficiency of the commonly administered anti-flu vaccines. All this makes the search for new classes of antiviral drugs a hot-button issue.
A unique form of carbon, C60 fullerene is shaped like a soccer ball with carbon atoms located at the vertices of its pentagons and hexagons. Although fullerene molecules boast unique biological properties, fullerenes and their classical derivatives are insoluble in water and biological media, making their application in medicine extremely difficult.
Two years ago, a research team led by Skoltech Professor, Pavel Troshin, proposed several effective approaches for the synthesis of water-soluble fullerene derivatives. In their latest study, the researchers discovered a unique new reaction that helped obtain a series of previously unavailable water-soluble fullerene derivatives with high antiviral activity. The mechanism of this unusual transformation of fullerenes was proposed based on the quantum chemical calculations.
"Our latest study focuses on the synthesis of highly effective inhibitors of dangerous viral infections, such as HIV, different varieties of flu, HSV and CMV, using fullerene derivatives as a multifunctional platform. We discovered a unique inversed Arbuzov reaction that allows fine-tuning the antiviral properties of new compounds and establishing fundamental correlations between a compound's structure and antiviral activity," explains the first author of the paper and Skoltech PhD student, Olga Kraevaya.
The results of this study open up vast opportunities for developing effective antiviral drugs capable of suppressing virus resistant lines, which will help combat currently untreatable infections.
The results of the study were published in the journal Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry and announced on its front cover. This study was made available online in May 2019 ahead of final publication in print in August 2019.

Copyright © 2019 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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    Science Daily / September 26, 2019
    Dishing the dirt on an early man cave
    Microscopic study yields intriguing ancient Denisovan secrets.
    Российские и австралийские археологи установили, что в последние 300 тысяч лет помимо людей - денисовцев, неандертальцев и кроманьонцев - в Денисовой пещере часто обитали животные, в основном пещерные гиены.

Fossil animal droppings, charcoal from ancient fires and bone fragments litter the ground of one of the world's most important human evolution sites, new research reveals.
The latest evidence from southern Siberia shows that large cave-dwelling carnivores once dominated the landscape, competing for more than 300,000 years with ancient tribes for prime space in cave shelters.
A team of Russian and Australian scientists have used modern geoarchaeological techniques to unearth new details of day-to-day life in the famous Denisova Cave complex in Siberia's Altai Mountains.
Large carnivores such hyena, wolves and even bears and at least three early nomadic human groups (hominins) - Denisovans, Neanderthals, and early Homo sapiens - used this famous archaeological site, the researchers say in a new Scientific Reports study examining the dirt deposited in the cave complex over thousands of years.
"These hominin groups and large carnivores such as hyenas and wolves left a wealth of microscopic traces that illuminate the use of the cave over the last three glacial-interglacial cycles," says lead author, Flinders University ARC Future Fellow Dr Mike Morley.
"Our results complement previous work by some of our colleagues at the site that has identified ancient DNA in the same dirt, belonging to Neanderthals and a previously unknown human group, the Denisovans, as well as a wide range of other animals." But it now seems that it was the animals that mostly ruled the cave space back then.
Microscopic studies of 3-4 metres of sediment left in the cave network includes fossil droppings left by predatory animals such as cave hyenas, wolves and possibly bears, many of their kind made immortal in ancient rock art before going extinct across much of Eurasia. From their 'micromorphology' examination of the dirt found in Denisova Cave, the team discovered clues about the use of the cave, including fire-use by ancient humans and the presence of other animals. The study of intact sediment blocks collected from the cave has yielded information not evident to the naked eye or gleaned from previous studies of ancient DNA, stone tools or animal and plant remains.
Co-author of the new research, University of Wollongong Distinguished Professor Richard (Bert) Roberts, says the study is very significant because it shows how much can be achieved by sifting through sedimentary material using advanced microscopy and other archaeological science methods to find critical new evidence about human and non-human life on Earth.
"Using microscopic analyses, our latest study shows sporadic hominin visits, illustrated by traces of the use of fire such as miniscule fragments, but with continuous use of the site by cave-dwelling carnivores such as hyenas and wolves," says Professor Roberts. "Fossil droppings (coprolites) indicate the persistent presence of non-human cave dwellers, which are very unlikely to have co-habited with humans using the cave for shelter."
This implies that ancient groups probably came and went for short-lived episodes, and at all other times the cave was occupied by these large predators.
The Siberian site came to prominence more than a decade ago with the discovery of the fossil remains of a previously unknown human group, dubbed the Denisovans after the local name for the cave. In a surprising twist, the recent discovery of a bone fragment in the cave sediments showed that a teenage girl was born of a Neanderthal mother and Denisovan father more than 90,000 years ago.
Denisovans and Neanderthals inhabited parts of Eurasia until perhaps 50,000 to 40,000 years ago, when they were replaced by modern humans (Homo sapiens).
The study was funded by the Australian Research Council and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research.

Copyright 2019 ScienceDaily
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    Space Ref / September 27, 2019
    NASA Selects Space Biology Experiments on Russian Bion-M2 Mission
    В 2022-2023 гг. Роскосмос и Институт медико-биологических проблем РАН при участии зарубежных космических агентств планируют запуск на околоземную орбиту второго биоспутника в серии Бион-М с целью исследования влияния условий космической среды на живые организмы. В частности, на спутнике полетят 75 мышей, растения и микроорганизмы.

NASA has selected nine grant proposals for space biology research experiments, the results of which will contribute to the understanding of health risks humans will experience in deep space, including exploration at the Moon through the Artemis program and future missions to Mars. Selected investigators will have an opportunity to conduct rodent experiments to be flown on a biosatellite mission, known as Bion-M2, with the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
In 2022, Roscosmos and the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IBMP RAS) plan to launch the second biosatellite in the Bion-M series. The goal of the unscrewed Cosmos/Bion missions, the first of which was launched in 1973, is to investigate how the space environment affects living organisms, with emphasis on animal morphology and physiology, gravitational biology, and radiation biology. American investigators have taken part in a great number of experiments flown on nine Cosmos/Bion missions of different durations between 1975 and 1996, the Foton-M1 and Foton-M2 missions completed in 2005 and 2007, as well as a 30-day Bion-M1 mission successfully implemented in 2013.
In 2017, NASA Space Biology released a Research Announcement entitled, "Solicitation of Proposals for Possible Inclusion in a Russian Bion-M2 Mission" that sought research proposals for Space Biology investigations using laboratory mice, cell cultures, invertebrate animals, and microorganisms.
Bion-M2 will carry 75 mice and launch to an altitude of 500-620 miles (800-1000 km) within the inner Van Allen Belt where they will be exposed to radiation levels much greater than those on the International Space Stations which operates at an altitude of about 250 miles (350 km) above Earth.
Selected proposals are compatible with the Bion-M2 research program and will help obtain new science results from the experiments performed. NASA expects that the selected investigations will advance our understanding of spaceflight-induced changes in biological systems and will therefore help inform human exploration missions at the Moon or beyond.
NASA’s participation in the Bion-M2 mission will be another stage in NASA/IBMP research collaboration, which has successfully continued for over 30 years and profoundly expanded our knowledge of spaceflight effects on living systems. When fully implemented, a total of ~$3.2 million will be awarded for US investigations on Bion-M2.
The Space Biology Program is managed by the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division in NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at the Agency's Headquarters in Washington, DC.

© 2019 SpaceRef Interactive Inc. All right are reserved.
* * *
    Bloomberg / September 29, 2019
    Why Vladimir Putin Suddenly Believes in Global Warming
    Russia was happy that global warming opened up Arctic oil, but the melting of permafrost poses a huge threat to its hydrocarbon heartlands.
    • By Julian Lee
    Через три с лишним года после подписания Парижского соглашения по климату Россия наконец-то его ратифицировала. До недавнего времени изменение климата считалось скорее выгодным для России, занимающей четвертое место в мире по выбросам углекислого газа - например, оно позволило открыть Северный морской путь. Но потепление ведет также к таянию вечной мерзлоты и, соответственно, к нестабильности инфраструктуры - почва попросту теряет способность удерживать то, что на ней построено.

President Vladimir Putin needs to go green quickly to stop the permafrost from melting, so that Russian oil and gas companies can keep pumping the hydrocarbons that are warming the planet and making the permafrost melt.
Even I’m struggling with the warped logic of that one, but it’s the conclusion I’ve reached from Russia’s sudden ratification of the Paris climate accord and from reading the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Until now, climate change has been seen as a "good thing" for Russia - at least in part. Warming waters have opened up the Northern Sea Route across the top of the country and made it practical, if not necessarily economic, to search for and exploit oil and gas resources beneath the Arctic seas. Who remembers the Shtokman gas project?
Yet the warming that is opening up the Arctic seas may be starting to have a less beneficial effect on the frozen landmass of northern Russia, the heartland of the country’s oil and gas development and production.
"Permafrost is undergoing rapid change," says the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate report adopted by the IPCC last week. The changes threaten the "structural stability and functional capacities" of oil industry infrastructure, the authors warn. The greatest risks occur in areas with high ground-ice content and frost-susceptible sediments. Russia’s Yamal Peninsula - home to two of Russia’s biggest new gas projects (Bovanenkovo and Yamal LNG) and the Novy Port oil development - fits that bill.
The problem is bigger than those three projects, though. Some "45% of the oil and natural gas production fields in the Russian Arctic are located in the highest hazard zone," according to the IPCC report.
The top few meters of the permafrost, the so-called active layer, freezes and thaws as the seasons change, becoming unstable during warmer months. Developers account for this by making sure their foundations are deep enough to support their infrastructure: including roads, railways, houses, processing plants and pipelines. But climate change is causing that active layer to deepen, which means the ground loses its ability to support the things built upon it. The loss of bearing capacity is dramatic and it’s already well under way.
Foundations in the permafrost regions can no longer bear the loads they did as recently as the 1980s, according to a 2017 report by the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program. At Noviy Port the bearing capacity of foundations declined more than 20% between the 1980s and the first decade of this century.
On the Yamal Peninsula the ground’s bearing capacity is forecast to fall by 25%-50% on average in the 2015-2025 period, when compared with the years 1965-1975. Further south, in an area that includes Urengoy (the world’s second-largest natural gas field) and much of Russia’s older West Siberian gas production, the soil could lose 50-75% of its bearing capacity, according to AMAP.
That may not be such a big problem for Russia’s newest oil infrastructure, which was designed with climate change in mind. The processing trains and storage tanks at Yamal LNG sit atop 65,000 piles driven up to 28 meters into the permafrost. These are kept cold by a so-called "thermosyphon system" designed to ensure that the soil’s load-bearing capacity is maintained throughout the project’s life.
Yet these assumptions depend on the models used to predict the extent of warming and permafrost degradation. What if they’re overtaken by an unexpected climb in temperatures?
"Near-surface permafrost in the High Arctic and other very cold areas has warmed by more than 0.5°C since 2007-2009, and the layer of the ground that thaws in summer has deepened in most areas where permafrost is monitored," according to the AMAP. Under a high emissions scenario, "the area of near-surface permafrost is projected to decrease by around 35%."
While the impact of retreating permafrost on Russia’s new Arctic oil and gas developments can be mitigated, it adds to the price of the projects in an already high-cost environment. For older infrastructure the problems are worse. Gas production at the Bovanenkovo field on the Yamal Peninsula is expected to reach 140 billion cubic meters a year - more than Norway's entire production - but it "has seen a recent increase in landslides related to thawing permafrost," says the AMAP.
The Yamal Peninsula as a whole is slated to become one of the "three main Russian gas production centers with a potential annual output of 310-360 billion cubic meters of gas," according to Russian energy giant Gazprom PJSC. That’s equal to half of all the gas produced in Russia last year.
Nevertheless, it may be too late to avoid much of the permafrost loss. AMAP says that even if greenhouse gas emissions were cut roughly in line with the targets in the Paris Agreement, that would only "stabilize near-surface permafrost extent at roughly 45% below current values." Doing nothing would see an even greater loss and even more problems for Russia’s oil and gas producers. Is this the real reason for Putin’s sudden conversion?

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved.
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