Earth may have underground ‘ocean’ three times that on surface

Scientists say rock layer hundreds of miles down holds vast amount of water, opening up new theories on how planet formed

Three-quarters of the Earth’s water may be locked deep underground in a layer of rock, scientists say. 

After decades of searching scientists have discovered that a vast reservoir of water, enough to fill the Earth’s oceans three times over, may be trapped hundreds of miles beneath the surface, potentially transforming our understanding of how the planet was formed.

The water is locked up in a mineral called ringwoodite about 660km (400 miles) beneath the crust of the Earth, researchers say. Geophysicist Steve Jacobsen from Northwestern University in the US co-authored the study published in the journal Science and said the discovery suggested Earth’s water may have come from within, driven to the surface by geological activity, rather than being deposited by icy comets hitting the forming planet as held by the prevailing theories.

“Geological processes on the Earth’s surface, such as earthquakes or erupting volcanoes, are an expression of what is going on inside the Earth, out of our sight,” Jacobsen said.

“I think we are finally seeing evidence for a whole-Earth water cycle, which may help explain the vast amount of liquid water on the surface of our habitable planet. Scientists have been looking for this missing deep water for decades.”

Jacobsen and his colleagues are the first to provide direct evidence that there may be water in an area of the Earth’s mantle known as the transition zone. They based their findings on a study of a vast underground region extending across most of the interior of the US

Ringwoodite acts like a sponge due to a crystal structure that makes it attract hydrogen and trap water.

If just 1% of the weight of mantle rock located in the transition zone was water it would be equivalent to nearly three times the amount of water in our oceans, Jacobsen said.

The study used data from the USArray, a network of seismometers across the US that measure the vibrations of earthquakes, combined with Jacobsen’s lab experiments on rocks simulating the high pressures found more than 600km underground.

It produced evidence that melting and movement of rock in the transition zone – hundreds of kilometres down, between the upper and lower mantles – led to a process where water could become fused and trapped in the rock.

The discovery is remarkable because most melting in the mantle was previously thought to occur at a much shallower distance, about 80km below the Earth’s surface.

Jacobsen told the New Scientist that the hidden water might also act as a buffer for the oceans on the surface, explaining why they have stayed the same size for millions of years. “If [the stored water] wasn’t there, it would be on the surface of the Earth, and mountaintops would be the only land poking out,” he said.

Sunscreen ‘not complete protection’


When the sun is strong, you should wear a T-shirt, spend time in shade and use a sunscreen, say experts

Sunscreen alone should not be relied on to prevent malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, research suggests.

The UK study backs public health campaigns calling for sunscreen to be combined with other ways to protect the skin from sun, such as hats and shade.

Animal research, published in Nature, reveals more about how UV light induces cancer in skin cells.

Malignant melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with more than 13,000 people diagnosed each year.

Sun exposure is a well-known risk factor for melanoma skin cancer.

“Start Quote

It’s essential to get into good sun safety habits, whether at home or abroad, and take care not to burn – sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged ”

Dr Julie SharpCancer Research UK

But, until now, the molecular mechanism by which UV light damages DNA in skin cells has been unclear.

In the new study, scientists at the University of Manchester looked at the effects of UV light on the skin of mice at risk of melanoma.

This allowed them to examine the effects of sunscreen in blocking the disease.

“UV light targets the very genes protecting us from its own damaging effects, showing how dangerous this cancer-causing agent is,” said lead researcher Prof Richard Marais.

“Very importantly, this study provides proof that sunscreen does not offer complete protection from the damaging effects of UV light.

“This work highlights the importance of combining sunscreen with other strategies to protect our skin, including wearing hats and loose fitting clothing, and seeking shade when the sun is at its strongest.”

Sun safety habits

The researchers found that UV light caused faults in the p53 gene, which normally helps protect the body from the effects of DNA damage.

The study also showed that sunscreen could reduce the amount of DNA damage caused by UV, delaying the development of melanoma in mice.

But it found sunscreen did not offer complete protection and UV light could still induce melanoma, although at a reduced rate.

Sunburn is a sign of DNA damage

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said people tended to think they were “invincible” once they had put on sunscreen and may spend longer in the sun, increasing their overall exposure to UV rays.

“This research adds important evidence showing that sunscreen has a role, but that you shouldn’t just rely on this to protect your skin,” she said.

“It’s essential to get into good sun safety habits, whether at home or abroad, and take care not to burn – sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged and, over time, this can lead to skin cancer.”

Malignant melanoma has become the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with more than 13,000 people diagnosed with the disease each year.

Prof Nic Jones, director of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, said: “With the number of cases increasing, we urgently need to understand more about the disease and find new and better treatments.”

“This is the first example of a mouse model that absolutely shows that UV light causes melanoma,” Prof Marais told BBC News.

Football-playing robots eye their own cup, and beyond

When robots play football, it looks like a game played by five-year-olds: they swarm around the ball, kick haphazardly and fall down a lot.

But  teams have made strides in recent years, and some researchers believe the humanoids could challenge the world’s best players in a decade or two.

“Maybe in 20 years we could develop a team of robots to play against the best World Cup teams,” said Daniel Lee, who heads the University of Pennsylvania robotics lab, which is seeking a fourth consecutive RoboCup in Brazil next month, the premiere event for robotic football.

Robotic football, says Lee, is more than fun and games. It involves  and complex algorithms that help provide a better understanding of human vision, cognition and mobility.

Similar technology can be used for robots that perform household tasks or search and rescue, and for self-driving cars, said Lee, who led a demonstration of his robot football team Wednesday at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Lee said robots have improved their game from a decade ago, having moved from four-legged doglike machines to two-legged humanoid forms.

But he said there is still a lot to be learned before robotic football can be competitive with humans. The robots in Wednesday’s demo still moved awkwardly, sometimes failed to locate the ball, and often ended up in collisions or fell over on their own.

“We have machines that can beat us in chess,” he said. “But we (humans) can still kick their butts in soccer.”

Because the robots are autonomous, they need to be able to handle all kinds of tasks humans take for granted: finding the ball, responding to different light conditions and terrain, and determining the best strategy.

“Our robots are calculating everything terms of probability,” he said, which means a human can outsmart a machine.

“In creativity, humans have an advantage.”

The Penn student team took home the RoboCup in the Netherlands in 2013 for the third year running, after victories in Mexico City in 2012 and Istanbul in 2011.

Lee said the research draws from a variety of disciplines, from engineering to anatomy to knowledge of sports.

The biggest challenge is to develop the type of awareness and  that athletes have.

“What is difficult is to understand the intent of the other team, that is what prevents us from being more sophisticated,” Lee said.

And in addition to developing technology for individual robots, the researchers need to find better ways for the machines to communicate with each other to coordinate strategy.

Lee said all this requires “a deep understanding of intelligence,” and added that “we are still many years away.”

Skin cancer drug that can extend patient’s life is recommended for use on NHS.

NHS patients could receive pioneering drug that helps the immune system destory skin cancer after Nice u-turn

hypodermic syringe

A four-injection course of the treatment costs around £70,000 but the NHS has been given an undisclosed discount to make it more affordable .

Ipilimumab, marketed as Yervoy, is one of the first of a new generation of immunotherapy drugs that have been hailed as a turning point in cancer treatment and can extend the life of patients by up to 10 years in some cases.

New final draft guidance from the NHS watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has recommended ipilimumab should be available as a first treatment for patients with advanced and inoperable melanoma.

Nice was previously criticised for ruling the drug should only be offered to patients who had already undergone chemotherapy or were taking part in clinical trials.

Earlier this year, the guidance was changed to recommend “first line ” use, but only in clinical trials.

It is estimated ipilimumab could help between 1,000 and 2,000 patients in the UK each year, many of them young.

If the latest draft guidance is approved – which is likely – patients will be eligible for ipilimumab even without first undergoing another form of treatment or taking part in a trial.

Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician at the charity Cancer Research UK, said after the announcement: “This is good news for melanoma patients: it means that they have the chance to benefit from this new type of treatment without having to go through conventional chemotherapy first.

“Research is showing the huge promise of therapies such as ipilimumab, which manipulate the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

“We’re pleased that Nice and the manufacturer have been able to work together to make this drug available to more patients on the NHS.”

A four-injection course of the treatment costs around £70,000 but the NHS has been given an undisclosed discount to make it more affordable.

Ipilimumab increases lifespan by an average of four months in melanoma patients whose cancer has spread.

But trial data suggests that one in five patients lives for at least three years after treatment.

Each year around 12,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma, and 2,200 die from the disease, which is notoriously hard to treat in its later stages.

Ipilimumab is a synthetic antibody that effectively takes a brake off the immune system, allowing the immune system’s arsenal of T-cells to target tumours.

It is one of a number of new drugs that act on regulatory systems whose normal role is to keep the immune system under control.

Cancers such as melanoma are known to exploit these immune system “checkpoints” to shield themselves from the body’s defences.

Ipilimumab suppresses a particular checkpoint “brake” called cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4).

Another drug, pembrolizumab, which targets a different checkpoint called PD-1, was recently in the headlines over the “miraculous” response of a trial patient with advanced melonama whose tumours appeared to melt away after treatment.

London TV engineer Warwick Steele, 64, had been given months to live after the cancer spread to his lungs.

Speaking about the case, consultant medical oncologist Dr David Chao, from Royal Hampstead NHS Trust in London, said: “This is one of several new drugs of this type being produced.

“What these early trials are showing is that they are fulfilling their promise ridiculously fast.

“Some of these results are really astonishing; almost jaw-dropping.”

Researchers have tried combining different types of immune checkpoint drug together, with promising results.

In its final draft guidance, Nice said patients with advanced melonoma which is either inoperable or has spread to other parts of the body should be eligible for ipilimumab as a first-line treatment.

Nice chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon said: “We already recommend ipilimumab as a second-line treatment and so we are pleased to be able to propose extending that recommendation to first line treatment too.

“In previous draft guidance issued for consultation early this year, the committee recommended ipilimumab only be used by the NHS for patients in clinical trials.

“However, during the consultation, Bristol-Myers Squibb, the manufacturer of ipilimumab, submitted further information on how well the drug works.

“This information consisted of additional analysis of the existing data which demonstrated the degree to which the approved dose of ipilimumab can extend life when compared with current standard care in the NHS.”

The draft guidance is still subject to appeal.

No wonder so many women are having abortions in their 20s .

Sadly the rise in abortions among my generation makes sense – who can afford to support a baby? But better contraception options are needed
‘It’s controversial, but I would like to see the morning-after pill available to bulk buy from pharmacies.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

New Department of Health statistics have found that mothers are more likely to have abortions than teenagers pregnant for the first time, with 53% of the women who had abortions last year already having a child.

The figures show that 185,331 abortions were carried out last year in England and Wales, a rise in line with population increase. But overall, the rate has dropped since 2003 to 15.9 abortions in 1,000.

The biggest drop in abortion rates (a third) was among under-18s, while in my own age group (25-29) so-called career-girl abortions – not a phrase I’ll be using until “career man” becomes common parlance – have risen 20% in the past 10 years.

Considering the recession, the rise in abortions among my generation makes sense. I barely know anyone who is in a financial position to support a baby, what with rent increases and pay freezes and widespread unemployment. In a climate where so many are scared for their jobs, I’d imagine young women are unsure as to what taking maternity leave might mean for their careers in the long run. That’s if they get maternity leave, of course – we freelancers are in an even more precarious position.

Financial constraints are affecting older women, too. Families are struggling to make ends meet, and may be unable to afford another child. We also know that the number of over-40s having unprotected sex is rising – partly because of divorce and new relationships (evenGuardian Soulmates may play a part) but also because, in terms of contraception, they are a much neglected group. Women will assume they are no longer fertile, or baby boomers may not have used contraception the first time round (“It was pre-Aids, darling,” my mother once said to me). Hence the Family Planning Association campaign of a few years back showcasing ugly 1970s outfits with the tagline:“Remember wearing this? Then remember to wear this,” with a picture of a condom.

That the rate among teenagers has dropped can be seen only as good news, reflecting the focus that has been placed on teenage pregnancy over the past 10 years, with schools and sexual health charities bombarding teenagers with contraception. That’s a huge change from my own time at school, when information was difficult to get hold of and the issue rarely talked about.

I always felt that the media hysteria over 13-year-olds being offered the pill was misplaced. Put them all on it, for all I care, because we know it works, just as we know that decent sex education won’t turn 8E into a class of shaggers overnight.

However, I wonder how much the rise in abortions taking place in women’s mid-to-late 20s is as related to poor access to contraception as it is financial constraints.

Several friends have been turned away from Brook clinics after reaching the cutoff age of 25, and quite rightly so. But the gap in services is not being adequately bridged, especially when you’re trying to get an appointment out of working hours. You can get the contraceptive pill without seeing a doctor via Lloyds Pharmacy by filling in a short questionnaire online and then going to pick it up on the same day, but many people are unaware of this. Access to the morning-after pill remains patchy – to obtain it for free, you might have to attend a clinic that is miles away. And pharmacists have the right to refuse you service – particularly problematic if it’s Sunday and you live in a rural area.

Furthermore, the frankly scandalous price, of £25 (it costs about €7 – £5.60 – in France over the counter) is prohibitive for many who may be unable to reach a free clinic or doctor’s surgery in time.

It’s controversial, but I would like to see the morning-after pill available to bulk-buy from pharmacies. At the moment, you can order it for immediate or future use online (most places charge £25 but I found one place that charges £6.50 a pill – duly bookmarked). Worryingly, though, the questionnaires are sometimes not that thorough, and most places will let you have no more than two at a time.

There is also the five-day-after pill, EllaOne – a drug barely anyone I know has heard of – that is available on prescription and, in some places, over the counter.

But I’d like to see women of all ages being better informed about their contraceptive choices – there is still a lot of stigma and misinformation out there. Let’s ensure that the focus on teenagers doesn’t detract from the need for better contraception services for older women.