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Bleaching of Coral Reefs

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A recent report on the condition of the world’s coral reefs last week was published and it was a mixture of good news and bad news but mostly bad news. As announced a few days ago, the good news of the report is that the global coral bleaching event that started in 2015 appears to be finished, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). However, the bad news, is that the 3 successive years of bleaching conditions damaged all but three of the 29 reefs that are listed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Heritage sites. The worse news is that the long term prognosis is not good. The real warning is that unless dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are implemented all these reefs will cease to host functioning coral reef ecosystems by the end of the century.  That is a disastrous prediction for the planet.

It is important to understand that bleaching occurs when overly warm water leads corals to expel symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae. Without the colorful algae, which use photosynthesis to produce nutrients for themselves and their hosts, the corals turn white, or bleach. If the waters cool soon enough, algae return; if bleaching persists, the corals die – and that is what has been happening due to rising temperatures. Reefs are ecosystems that support more than a million marine species. And an estimated half billion people around the world rely on reefs for livelihoods from fishing and tourism. Therefore, these outcomes have major economic and social impact beyond the ecological and environmental impacts.

NOAA has been actively monitoring and recording their findings.  NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch uses satellite observations of sea surface temperatures and modeling to monitor and forecast when water temperatures rise enough to cause bleaching. According to Science magazine, in the most recent case, waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean basins began rising in mid-2014 and bleaching started in 2015. The 3-year duration of this latest event is unprecedented; previous periods of global bleaching came and went within a year.

Reefs can recover from bleaching, but it takes 15 to 25 years. The recent numbers show that 13 of the 29 World Heritage listed reefs were exposed to bleaching more than twice per decade between 1985 and 2013, that is, even before the latest bleaching event which killed significant numbers of corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef 2 years in a row according to Science magazine.

But even if CO2 emissions are curbed, reefs face challenges from climate change. The Paris Agreement sets the goal of holding the increase in the global average mean temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels but calls for efforts to limit that increase to 1.5°C. The report states that any increase greater than 1.5°C will likely cause “severe degradation of the great majority of coral reefs.”  However, limiting the rise in atmospheric temperatures will at least give reefs some time to adapt.

Happy Tirgan Festival (July 4th)

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Tirgan is a major Iranian festival with a history that spans thousands of years. It is held on the 13th day of the month of Tir in the Iranian calendar (equivalent to the 4th of July). In ancient times, it was a ritual to celebrate Tishter, the goddess of rain. In Iranian mythology, it signifies the day when Arash, a national hero, acted to end the long wars between Iran and Turan and to settle a border that was acceptable to both countries. The two parties decided that Arash should ascend to the summit of Mount Damavand and shoot an arrow; wherever the arrow landed was to be the border between the two countries. Arash put all his strength into the arrow and, by sacrificing his life, broadened the Iranian border, giving peace and tranquility to his countrymen. It is interesting to note that his bow and arrow were presented to him by the Goddess Sapandarmazgan, the guardian of productivity and vitality. The myth clearly presents the Iranian love for peace and preservation of the environment. For thousands of years, Iranians have celebrated the occasion with happy festivities and games, instead of mourning for the hero. One tradition for youngsters is to throw water at each other, washing away the pain and sorrow brought to human life by Ahriman.

US Supreme Court to decide on Iran artifact case

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The US Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to decide on a long-running legal battle over whether Persian artifacts in Chicago museums can be seized as compensation for victims of a terror attack in Israel.

The court will have the final word in the more than decade-long saga between Iran and five US citizens, who blame the Islamic republic for its support of militant group Hamas.

The case highlights the difficulty for victims in obtaining judgments in their favor against sovereign states accused of supporting organizations considered by Washington to be terror groups.

The last decision in the case favored Tehran: a federal appeals court in Chicago ruled that the artifacts being kept at the Field Museum and at the University of Chicago were immune to seizure.

The case stems from a 1997 suicide bombing in Jerusalem that was carried out by Hamas.

Five US citizens injured in the attack won a $71.5 million civil judgment against Iran because it provided material support and training to Hamas.

Among the artifacts were a collection of 2,500-year-old clay tablets bearing ancient cuneiform script which have been in the care of the University of Chicago since the 1930s.

The victims also sought to seize a collection of artifacts at the Field Museum which were purchased in 1945 from German archeologist Ernst Herzfeld.

Iran does not claim ownership of the collection, but the victims have argued that they do in fact belong to Iran because Herzfeld stole them and smuggled them out of the country.

The issue will be heard by the US Supreme Court in its next annual session beginning in October.

Ancient DNA Reveals Role of Near East and Egypt in Cat Domestication

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DNA found at archaeological sites reveals that the origins of our domestic cat are in the Near East and ancient Egypt. Cats were domesticated by the first farmers some 10,000 years ago. They later spread across Europe and other parts of the world via trade hub Egypt. The DNA analysis also revealed that most of these ancient cats had stripes: spotted cats were uncommon until the Middle Ages.

Five subspecies of the wildcat Felis silvestris are known today. All skeletons look exactly alike and are indistinguishable from that of our domestic cat. As a result, it’s impossible to see with the naked eye which of these subspecies was domesticated in a distant past. Paleogeneticist Claudio Ottoni and his colleagues from KU Leuven (University of Leuven) and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences set out to look for the answer in the genetic code. They used the DNA from bones, teeth, skin, and hair of over 200 cats found at archaeological sites in the Near East, Africa, and Europe. These remains were between 100 and 9,000 years old.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-06-ancient-dna-reveals-role-east.html#jCp

World Refugee Day

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The United Nations’ (UN) World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 each year. This event honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.

World Refugee Day honors the spirit and courage of millions of refugees worldwide.©iStockphoto.com/David Snyder

What Do People Do?

People honor the spirit and courage of millions of refugees worldwide on World Refugee Day. It is a day to recognize the contributions of refugees in their communities. Organizations such as Amnesty International and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) often get involved in various activities for the day. They may include:

  • Activist protests against using former prisons to detain migrants and asylum seekers.

  • Screenings of films about the lives of asylum seekers living in a western country.

  • Organization members visiting asylum seekers in detention to offer moral support.

  • Letters or petitions to governments on the treatment of asylum seekers in detention.

Some communities dedicate an entire week that includes World Refugee Day to encourage people to think about the lives of refugees and the human right to a secure place to that one can see as “home”.

Public Life

World Refugee Day is a global observance and not a public holiday.

Background

For years, many countries and regions have been holding their own events similar to World Refugee Day. One of the most widespread events is Africa Refugee Day, which is celebrated on June 20 in many countries. the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to express its solidarity with Africa on December 4, 2000.

The resolution noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, and that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) agreed to have International Refugee Day coincide with Africa Refugee Day on June 20. The Assembly therefore decided that June 20 would be celebrated as World Refugee Day from 2001 onwards. This day was designated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to bring attention to the plight of approximately 14 million refugees around the world.

The Windmill and the Contribution of Persia

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The Windmill and the Contribution of Persia

By Dr. Kaveh Farrokh

The article below is based on an excerpt from Kaveh Farrokh’s second text “Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War” (2007, Chapter 19: The Legacy of Persia after the Islamic Conquests, pages 280-281). For more on these topics, readers may consult the following link: Learning, Science, Knowledge, technology and Medicine

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The first water pumps and grain mills powered by wind-sails originated in modern northwest Iran in (circa) 6th -7th centuries CE during the late Sassanian era.

Model of an Iranian windmill housed in the German Museum in Munich (Source: Saupreiß in Allaboutlean.com).

The origins of the first wind-powered machine concept is attributed to Heron (10-70 CE), a Greek inventor who first built this device in his workshop in Roman-ruled Egypt. Heron’s design of the shaft and rotating blades were placed at the horizontal position.

Portrait of Heron as he appears in a 1688 German book translation of Heron’s “Pneumatics” (Source: Public Domain).

The Heron machine however never advanced beyond the prototype he had designed, as the Romans never exploited this for generating power or for agriculture. The Iranians however knew of this technology, thanks in part to the Sassanian Empire’s efforts to protect and preserve Greek scholarship and knowledge (see Jundishapur University)

Short video of an ancient windmill in Iran that remains operational to this day (Source: Youtube).

By the late Sassanian era the first true windmill had appeared in the northeastern regions of the Sassanian Empire (modern Khorasan and west Afghanistan). Modern scholarship is in agreement that Iranian engineers had completely re-designed Heron’s original machine for applied purposes. They had achieved this by inverting the shaft that held the blades, toward an upright position. The re-designed shaft and rotating blades were installed inside a mud-brick encased tower. This structure in turn had “air ducts” allowing for the air to enter and rotate the blades housed inside of it. The “sails” or “blades” were built of a very strong fabric – there were up to twelve of these inside each of these “towers” or structures. This new technology had been initially designed as a corn-mill.