Monday, February 19, 2018
Perspective

Alaska eruptions may have dried up ancient Egyptians’ Lower Nile

Did violent volcanoes in Russia, Greenland and Alaska affect the lives of ancient Egyptians? It may sound improbable, but according to a new study, the answer is yes. In a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, a team of researchers shows that explosive volcanic eruptions in high northern latitudes of the globe can impact the Nile watershed, causing the flow of one of the worldís mightiest rivers to slow.

This in turn could keep the lower Nile from flooding in the late summer months ó a regular occurrence on which ancient Egyptians relied to irrigate their crops. No Nile flooding meant no irrigation, which meant a bad year in the fields, low food supplies and ultimately, researchers say, civic unrest.

"Itís a bizarre concept that Alaskan volcanoes were screwing up the Nile, but in fact, thatís what happened," said Joseph Manning, a historian at Yale University who worked on the study. He said the idea to compare geological evidence of volcanoes with records kept by the ancient Egyptians occurred to him about two years ago. He was at a dinner with geographer Francis Ludlow, now at Trinity College in Dublin, who had contributed to a seminal study that re-dated volcanic eruptions and looked at how they may have impacted the climate ó and history ó at the time. Around their third glass of wine, Manning asked Ludlow whether he had any data on volcanoes that erupted from 305 to 30 B.C. ó the centuries that the powerful Ptolemaic dynasty ruled Egypt, and Manningís area of expertise.

When Ludlow pulled the data up on his computer, Manning was stunned. He instantly recognized the dates of some of the volcanoes as corresponding with times of upheaval in Ptolemaic Egypt. "It almost looked too good to be true," Manning said. "And thatís when we started to work."

The authors explain that sulfurous gases released during a powerful volcano can form reflective sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere. Because these aerosols reflect solar radiation, they lead to a cooling effect that can last for one to two years. This, in turn, affects what is known as the hydroclimate, including the amount of surface evaporation and rainfall.

"Itís an indirect response, but because of atmospheric circulation and energy budgets, we find that large volcanic eruptions cause droughts, particularly in monsoon areas," Manning said.

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times

Picture this scenario: You and a co-worker are given a task to complete. The co-worker occasionally pretends to do something but leaves you with all of the drudgery. Now imagine that your co-worker weighs several thousand pounds and has a trunk.

Thatís what happened to an Asian elephant in an experiment looking at social intelligence among animals, which researchers are learning is far more complex than previously thought. In addition to deception ó like that lazy elephant ó there are fascinating examples of cooperation.

For instance, some dolphin moms in Australia teach their daughters to don a sea sponge on their snouts, allowing them to search the seafloor for fish without hurting their noses. This was all revealed in Scientific Americanís "Secret Lives of Animals," a special collectorís edition.

Many of the articles highlight just how much humans have in common with other creatures. Thereís the tear-jerker "When Animals Mourn" by Barbara J. King, a professor of anthropology at the College of William & Mary. It includes an anecdote about a giraffe giving birth to an infant with a deformed foot. The mom stays close to the baby, even though that means not foraging with her herd ó and potentially putting her life at risk. When the young giraffe dies after four weeks, the mom is joined by 16 other females, which all help protect the body from predators.

Pet owners may want to flip directly to "The World According to Dogs," a collection of scientific findings about manís best friend. The most useful tidbit: If a dog wonít play with you, youíre probably just doing it wrong. Patting the floor, picking up a dog, smooching it ó those are all ineffective techniques, according to a 2001 study. Instead, try a different strategy, suggests writer Julie Hecht: "The researchers found that giving chase and running away and lunging forward were associated with play 100 percent of the time."

Vicky Hallett, Washington Post

Comments
PolitiFact: The facts behind Donald Trumpís exaggerations on immigration, MS-13 and crime

PolitiFact: The facts behind Donald Trumpís exaggerations on immigration, MS-13 and crime

President Donald Trump has linked illegal immigration to the violence of the MS-13 gang, claiming "open borders" have caused the deaths of many people in the United States.During his State of the Union speech, Trump highlighted the 2016 killings of t...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: Diplomacy, not fire and fury

Perspective: Diplomacy, not fire and fury

President Donald Trump infamously used the expression "fire and fury" to threaten North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Then, at the United Nations, he vowed to "totally destroy North Korea." These words would be considered criminal if uttered by ordina...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: Trust the polls, not the pundits

Perspective: Trust the polls, not the pundits

Itís not easy being a pollster these days. When I started in 1984, two out of three people we reached on the then-universal landline said they were happy to take a poll. "Shh! Someone is calling me from New York and asking me important questions. I w...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: The future of globalism

Perspective: The future of globalism

Oh my, were we naive. The Cold War ended with a sort of whimper and we looked forward to making the world safe for democracy and perhaps even for a more compassionate capitalism. We understood that increasingly extreme inequities in wealth are diffic...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18

Column: The Trump administration is starting to pay attention to Africa

President Donald Trumpís first policy statement about Africa took place at the United Nations last September when he hosted a lunch for African heads of state. He correctly identified two major internal conflicts in South Sudan and the Democratic Rep...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: A national security strategy of coming to terms with competition

Perspective: A national security strategy of coming to terms with competition

The Trump administration, in a series of required national security documents, has signaled a dramatic departure from the Bush and Obama administrationsí visions of the U.S. role in the international order.The National Security Strategy (NSS) and the...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: We need to prepare for instability in North Korea

Perspective: We need to prepare for instability in North Korea

North Korea has been a top foreign policy priority since President Donald Trump settled into the Oval Office. The president has repeatedly expressed his intention to "solve" the North Korean crisis, emphasizing that all policy options ó including mil...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs will bring the world home to you

Perspective: St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs will bring the world home to you

Editorís note: In advance of this weekís sixth annual St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, several of the experts who will participate have written essays for todayís Perspective about key areas of concern, among them North Korea, national sec...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18

Perspective: Why do poor Americans eat so unhealthfully? Because junk food is the only indulgence they can afford

By Priya Fielding-SinghThe verdict is in: Food deserts donít drive nutritional disparities in the United States the way we thought. Over the past decade, study after study has shown that differences in access to healthful food canít fully explain why...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/09/18
Perspective: Sending a Tesla into space is the greatest symbol of American grandeur

Perspective: Sending a Tesla into space is the greatest symbol of American grandeur

Henry AllenWhen Elon Muskís SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket thundered heavenward, my dream was fulfilled.Back when this was a real country ó which is to say before Vietnam, when America was the grand and grandiose land of surf íní turf, of station wagons ...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/09/18