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Scientists Study Potential for Tsunamis in Northern California

Using studies that span the last three decades, scientists at UC Santa Barbara have compiled the first evidence-based comprehensive study of the potential for tsunamis in Northwestern California. According to the study, the local California section has experienced three major earthquakes over the last 2000 years, and accompanying local sea-level changes at roughly 300- to 400-year intervals, with the last one occurring 500 to 600 years ago. The researchers also found that the entire CSZ erupted, causing local submergence at least three times in roughly 500- to 600- year intervals, the last activity taking place in 1700 AD.

"It's not a matter of if, but when," said Earth Science Professor Edward Keller, of the potential for the next major earthquake/tsunami event in the region — a great earthquake that would impact not only the Northwest, but also send waves to Japan and Hawaii. The evidence, he said, is leading to far more foresight and planning along the impact areas in the region to avoid catastrophes on a level with the Japan earthquake of 2011 or the Indian Ocean quake of 2004.

The paper, "Paleoseismicity of the Southern End of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, Northwestern California," was co-written by professors Keller and Alexander Simms from UCSB's Department of Earth Science, and published in a recent issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.


Researchers Demonstrate the Role of Urban Greenery in CO2 Exchange

In what might be the first study to report continuous measurements of net CO2 exchange of urban vegetation and soils over a full year or more, scientists from UC Santa Barbara and the University of Minnesota conclude that not only is vegetation important in the uptake of the greenhouse gas, but also that different types of vegetation play different roles. Their findings will be published July 4 in the current issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

"The question was: Can we see what the green space is doing against the backdrop of human activities?" said Joe McFadden, an associate professor in the UC Santa Barbara Department of Geography, and a co-author of the study.


The researchers found that typical suburban greenery, such as trees and lawns, played significant roles with respect to CO2 uptake. For nine months out of the year, the suburban landscape was a source of CO2 to the atmosphere; but during the summer, the carbon uptake by vegetation was large enough to balance out fossil fuel emissions of carbon within the neighborhood. Compared to the natural landscape outside the city, the peak daily uptake of CO2 in the suburbs would have been at the low end uptake for a hardwood forest in the region.

urbangreen urbangreen caption

"Lawns' peak carbon uptake occurred in the spring and fall, because they are made up of cool-season grass species that are stressed by summer heat," said first author Emily Peters, from the University of Minnesota, "while trees had higher CO2 uptake throughout the summer." Evergreen trees maintained their CO2 uptake for a longer period of time than deciduous trees because they keep their leaves year-round; deciduous trees lose their leaves in fall and winter.


Psychologists Reveal How Brain Performs ‘Motor Chunking' Tasks

motor chunking

You pick up your cell phone and dial the new number of a friend. Ten numbers. One. Number. At. A. Time. Because you haven't actually typed the number before, your brain handles each button press separately, as a sequence of distinct movements.

After dialing the number a few more times, you find yourself typing it out as a series of three successive bursts of movement: the area code, the first three numbers, the last four numbers. Those three separate chunks allow you to type the number faster, and with greater precision. Eventually, dialed often enough, the number is stored in your brain as one chunk. Who needs speed dial?

The two processes are at odds with each other, and it's how the brain reconciles this struggle during motor learning that UC Santa Barbara researchers looked at in a new study on motor chunking in the journal Neuron, published by Cell Press. Nicholas Wymbs and the study's other authors, including Scott Grafton, professor of psychology and director of the UCSB Brain Imaging Center. "What we are interested in is functional plasticity of the brain –– how the brain changes when we learn actions, or motor sequences as we refer to them in this paper," said Nicholas Wymbs, a postdoctoral researcher in UC Santa Barbara's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and the lead author.

The scientists discovered that the putamen — a brain region that is critically important to movement — supports the concatenation process of motor chunking, with robust connectivity to parts of the brain that are intimately tied to the output of skilled motor behavior. On the other hand, they found that cortical regions in the left hemisphere respond more during the parsing process of motor chunking. "These regions have been linked to the manipulation of motor information, which is something that we probably do more of when we just begin to learn the sequences as chunks," Wymbs said.


UCSB Scientists Synthesize First Genetically Evolved Semiconductor Material

In the not-too-distant future, scientists may be able to use DNA to grow their own specialized materials, thanks to the concept of directed evolution. UC Santa Barbara scientists have, for the first time, used genetic engineering and molecular evolution to develop the enzymatic synthesis of a semiconductor.

"In the realm of human technologies it would be a new method, but it's an ancient approach in nature," said Lukmaan Bawazer, first author of the paper, "Evolutionary selection of enzymatically synthesized semiconductors from biomimetic mineralization vesicles," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Bawazer, who was a Ph.D. student at the time, wrote the paper with co-authors at UCSB's Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Biomolecular Science and Engineering; Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies; California NanoSystems Institute and Materials Research Laboratory; and Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. Daniel Morse, UCSB professor emeritus of biochemistry of molecular genetics, directed the research.

Using silicateins, proteins responsible for the formation of silica skeletons in marine sponges, the researchers were able to generate new mineral architectures by directing the evolution of these enzymes. Silicateins, which are genetically encoded, serve as templates for the silica skeletons and control their mineralization, thus participating in similar types of processes by which animal and human bones are formed. Silica, also known as silicon dioxide, is the primary material in most commercially manufactured semiconductors.




Compiled from UCSB Public Affairs Office

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