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Soft coral garden found in Greenland’s deep sea

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June 29 (UPI) — Scientists have discovered a soft coral garden off the coast of western Greenland, some 1,600 feet below the ocean surface.

The ecosystem — described Monday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Biology — was discovered using a novel, low-cost underwater video system developed by researchers at University College London, the Zoological Society of London and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

The discovery could have implications for the management of nearby deep-sea trawl fisheries.

“The deep sea is often over-looked in terms of exploration. In fact we have better maps of the surface of Mars, than we do of the deep sea,” Stephen Long, first author on the new study, said in a news release.

“The development of a low-cost tool that can withstand deep-sea environments opens up new possibilities for our understanding and management of marine ecosystems,” said Long, a postdoctoral researcher in the geography department at UCL. “We’ll be working with the Greenland government and fishing industry to ensure this fragile, complex and beautiful habitat is protected.”

The soft coral garden features an abundance of cauliflower corals, as well as feather stars, sponges, anemones, brittle stars and hydrozoans bryozoans.

“Coral gardens are characterized by collections of one or more species — typically of non-reef forming coral — that sit on a wide range of hard and soft bottom habitats, from rock to sand, and support a diversity of fauna,” said Chris Yesson, study co-author and ZSL researcher. “There is considerable diversity among coral garden communities, which have previously been observed in areas such as northwest and southeast Iceland.”

In addition to being pitch black, deep sea environments host extreme ocean pressures. The pressure at 500 meters, or 1,600 feet, underwater is 50 times greater than at sea-level.

Most deep sea observations require expensive remote-controlled submersibles, but for the latest survey, researchers developed a low-cost alternative using a GoPro video camera, outfitted with lights and lasers, and housed in a pressure-proof container. Scientists situated the protected camera system in a large steel frame and lowered it into the ocean off the coast of Greenland.

The researcher team deposited their video sled on the ocean bottom and started recording. Scientists captured 15 minutes at a time across 18 different locations.

“A towed video sled is not unique. However, our research is certainly the first example of a low-cost DIY video sled led being used to explore deep-sea habitats in Greenland’s 2.2 million square kilometers of sea,” Long said. “So far, the team has managed to reach an impressive depth of 1,500 meters. It has worked remarkably well and led to interest from researchers in other parts of the world.”

The deep sea is one the planet’s least understood environs, but researchers hope their new video sled will make deep sea research more accessible to scientists across the globe.

“Greenland’s seafloor is virtually unexplored, although we know is it inhabited by more than 2000 different species together contributing to complex and diverse habitats, and to the functioning of the marine ecosystem,” said Martin Blicher, researcher at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

“Despite knowing so little about these seafloor habitats, the Greenlandic economy depends on a small number of fisheries which trawl the seabed. We hope that studies like this will increase our understanding of ecological relationships, and contribute to sustainable fisheries management,” Blicher said.



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Apple recalls shipment of iPhone 6 Plus due to photo glitch

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CUPERTINO, Calif., Aug. 23 (UPI) — Apple has recalled a shipment of its iPhone 6 Plus due to a technological glitch that produces blurry photos in the device’s camera, the company announced.

The recall affects a small number of iPhone 6 Plus devices, Apple said in a statement, which have demonstrated a glitch in the iSight camera.

Apple said it’s “a component that may fail causing your photos to look blurry.”

Apple created a web page where users can enter their phone’s serial number to determine if they are affected by the recall.

The iPhone 6 and larger iPhone 6 Plus were released last September.



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‘Invisible’ words reveal common structure among famous stories

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — Storytelling requires a narrative arc, but the trajectory of a dramatic arc isn’t always obvious.

By tracing the abundance of “invisible” words — pronouns, articles and other short words — researchers were able to identify patterns shared by a diversity of stories, from Shakespeare to Spielberg, according to a study published Friday in Science Advances.

“Over the years, these ‘invisible’ words have been found to be related to a whole mess of psychological processes — how people use small words like articles and pronouns tell us about a person’s mental health, thinking style, their social status, and even how well they get along with other people,” study lead author Ryan Boyd told UPI.

“In many ways, it was a natural progression to look at what these words can tell us how the nature of stories,” said Boyd, a lecturer in behavioral analytics at the University of Leeds.

For the study, Boyd and his colleagues used a range of statistical techniques to analyze the abundance and distribution of invisible words in 40,000 fictional texts, including short stories, novels and movie scripts.

The analysis revealed a common structure — a so-called narrative curve — featuring three distinct phases.

During the “staging” phase, authors use prepositions and articles in greater abundance, peppering their prose with “a” and “the.” These words are more useful at the beginning, when authors must set the scene and provide the audience with basic information.

The middle phase is defined by plot progression, which is revealed by a greater abundance of auxiliary verbs, adverbs and pronouns — or interactional language. During this phase, “the house” from the staging phase becomes “her home” or “it.”

During the third phase, cognitive tension is ramped up as the narrative arc reaches a climax. As the author guides the reader or viewer through the process of conflict resolution, cognitive-processing words like “think,” “believe,” “understand” and “cause” begin to crop up in greater numbers.

Researchers found this three-phase narrative shape remained consistent, regardless of a stories length.

“A 25,000 word story has the same shape as a 250 word story,” said Boyd, lead author of the new study. “It seems, then, that we are able to do a good job of structuring our stories in an optimal way regardless of how much space we have to do it in.”

The researchers set up a website showing the shapes of staging, plot progression and cognitive tension in eight texts at The Arc of Narrative website.

The patterns left by invisible words proved both good and bad stories — tales spun by amateurs, as well as professionals — utilize similar structures.

“Our results confirm what people have long believed about stories,” Boyd said. “Like DNA, we knew about it long before we could actually see it and measure it. With these new methods, we are able to see and measure the ‘DNA’ of stories and understand them in more objective, scientific ways.”

According to Boyd, studying the patterns of stories can offer insights into cognitive processes unique to humans.

“What these story shapes seem to tell us is that we have, to some degree, evolved to process information in certain ways,” he said. “We need to understand the ‘who’ and ‘what’ in order to understand the ‘why’ of our everyday lives and the lives of others.”

The authors of the latest story are already mining text for other language patterns that might help researchers determine whether a story-teller is telling the truth, or perhaps reveal the secrets to a “good” story.



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Florida Current study confirms decline in strength of Gulf Stream

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — New research suggests the strength of the Florida Current, which forms the beginning of the Gulf Stream, has weakened considerably over the last century.

The findings, published Friday in the journal Nature Climate Change, corroborate the predictions of several models that suggest the Gulf Stream has slowed over the last several decades.

The Florida Current is a thermal ocean current that flows from west to east around the tip of Florida, joining the Gulf Stream off Florida’s east coast.

Scientists have been tracking the strength of the Florida Current since the early 1980s — not long enough to identify multi-decadal or centennial trends.

To better understand the current’s historical changes, Christopher Piecuch, researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, decided to study the relationship between coastal sea level and the strength of near-shore currents.

While researchers have only been measuring the Florida Current for a few decades, scientists have been recording sea level data since the early 1900s. Piecuch was able to use the data to predict historic changes in the strength of near-shore currents.

“In the ocean, almost everything is connected,” Christopher Piecuch, sole author of the new study, said in a news release. “We can use those connections to look at things in the past or far from shore, giving us a more complete view of the ocean and how it changes across space and time.”

The statistical analysis performed by Piecuch showed the Florida Current and Gulf Stream are the weakest they’ve been during the last 110 years.

The findings are in agreement with ocean current models that suggest climate change has caused a slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, of which the Gulf Stream is a part.

Piecuch said he hopes his research will help other scientists use coastal current data to study changes in bigger currents like the Gulf Stream.

“If we can monitor something over the horizon by making measurements from shore, then that’s a win for science and potentially for society,” he said.



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