Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Neil Gaiman brings Beowulf back to St Andrews

Neil Gaiman
(photo credit: Kimberly Butler)
When prize-winning author Neil Gaiman first encountered the Old English epic Beowulf, he did so via the Penguin Classics translation of the poem, made by Michael Alexander, former Berry Professor of English at St Andrews.
This week Gaiman comes to St Andrews to receive an honorary degree and to talk about (among other subjects) his part as writer on the Hollywood film adaptation of Beowulf. Dr Chris Jones of the School of English specializes in the uses that contemporary artists make of Old English literature. You can read his blog about Gaiman’s Beowulf here: School of English blog, or if you have a Reading Group, download discussions questions about Beowulf and the film here: Beowulf Discussion Questions.

Read about the research:   Chris Jones, ‘From Heorot to Hollywood: reading Beowulf in its third millennium’, in David Clark and Nicholas Perkins, eds., Anglo-Saxon and the Modern Imagination (Cambridge: Brewer, 2010), pp. 13-29. Published in Anglo-Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination, Edited by David Clark &Nicholas Perkins.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

INTRIGUED: INvestigating The Role of the North Pacific In Glacial and Deglacial CO2 and Climate

The geological record offers an invaluable window into the different ways earth's climate can operate. The most recent major changes in earth's climate, prior to modern climate change, were the Pleistocene ice ages. These feature growth and collapse of massive ice sheets, rapid shifts in rain belts, and abrupt changes in ocean circulation. Changes in atmospheric CO2 are intimately linked with these ice age climate changes, but despite decades of effort, we still don't fully understand their driving mechanisms.

The aim of the newly NERC-funded research by Dr James Rae of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences is to transform our understanding of ice age CO2 and climate change, by investigating how the deep Pacific stored CO2 during ice ages, and released it back to the atmosphere during deglaciation. Although all leading hypotheses for ice age CO2 change involve CO2 storage in the deep ocean, the role of the Pacific remains unknown. As the Pacific contains half of global ocean volume, and ~30 times more CO2 than the atmosphells, whichere, its behaviour will have global impact. Our work will involve making geochemical measurements on fossil shells taken from sediment cores from the deep Pacific Ocean. These shells - called foraminifera - record the chemistry of the surrounding water at the time they grow, so by making measurements on them down the length of a sediment core, we can read back through the history of ocean circulation and CO2. A particular focus of our grant is the boron isotope composition of these sh reflects ocean pH and CO2. The new St Andrews Isotope Geochemistry labs at the University of St Andrews are among the first in the world to have be built fully boron-free, allowing us to be at the forefront of this cutting-edge technique.

The research is based at St Andrews, but features a team of leading scientists from around the world, including the Universities of Bristol, Kiel, Oregon, McGill, and ETH Zurich, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Scripps Institute of Oceanography USA, the Alfred Wegner Institute for Polar Research Germany, and radiocarbon facilities in Glasgow and California.

The project will ultimately improve understanding of CO2 exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere, which is an important factor for predicting the path of future climate change.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Tree rings unveil temperatures of the last millenium

High on mountains across Alaska, Canada, Europe and Russia near the upper or high latitude tree line, even the hardiest of conifers are at the edge of survival. Their annual rings tell a story of extreme cold that limit their growth and of warmer years that allow them to flourish. By analysing samples from these living trees and fallen timbers, researchers are able to reconstruct past temperature change.

A new international consortium of scientists, led by Dr Rob Wilson of the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, has collated a network of such tree-ring archives to derive a history of temperature fluctuations across the entire Northern Hemisphere. The N-TREND consortium (N-TREND stands for Northern Tree-Ring Network Development) was created to develop a global database of tree-ring research that improves on previous efforts for developing large-scale temperature reconstructions across the hemisphere. The consortium was devised to provide a collective platform where participants are all on the same page with respect to identifying not only gaps in the hemispheric network, but also facilitating the communication and training of new methodological approaches that can further improve tree-ring based temperature reconstructions.

The consortium’s first research paper, appearing in the current issue of Quaternary Science Reviews, provides a view of past Northern Hemisphere temperature changes over more than 1,000 years. It reveals a longer and warmer Medieval period than previous temperature reconstructions suggested, from around 850 to the end of the 11th century, with a peak in the 1160s. It also shows how the two coldest decades—1812-1821 and 1832-1841, both during a period known as the Little Ice Age—are followed by near continuous warming until present. The new paper takes a close look at some of the challenges of previous historic temperature reconstructions, explaining why reconstructions using multiple proxy archive sources—such as tree rings, ice cores, lake sediments etc, or mixing seasons expressed by different archives — can end up with ambiguous results when trying to understand past climatic variability and forcing.
A second paper will soon be submitted that will look at spatial temperature variations across the Northern Hemisphere for the last millennium. Such spatial analyses will help answer questions about the spatial extent of Medieval Warm Period, for example, and through comparative analyses with global climate models could help attribute the forces behind such past temperature ch

Columbia University links: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Blog
"Last millennium northern hemisphere summer temperatures from tree rings: Part I: The long term context", Quaternary Science Reviews Volume 134, 15 February 2016, Pages 1–18, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2015.12.005

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Daniele Barbaro (1514-70): In and Beyond the Text

The Venetian patrician, Daniele Barbaro, was one of the greatest intellectuals of his time and a prominent patron of artists and scholars, such as Palladio, Veronese and Titian. A complex and multi-faceted personality, he published several books and left unpublished writings on a range of subjects, including philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, optics, history, music, and architecture.
Paolo Veronese, Portrait of Daniele Barbaro, 1556-67, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
The International Network, Daniele Barbaro (1514-70): In and Beyond the Text, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, project partners University of St Andrews, Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours, and Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice, puts Barbaro under the lens of his writings, and adopting a cross-disciplinary approach it provides a reassessment of this figure in the context of the European Renaissance on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his birth.

The project, co-ordinated by Dr Laura Moretti, of the School of Art History, started on the 1st of February 2014 and will end on the 31st of January 2016. The project partners are the University of St Andrews, the Centre d'Études Supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours, and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice.

A recent exhibition of the work (University of St Andrews, 4-5 September 2014) set up in parallel with a workshop on Barbaro’s manuscripts and printed works, his relation with printers, and the context of book printing in sixteenth-century Venice (see the exhibition catalogue for further information). 

A major exhibition of the work opens in Venice on the 10th of January in the Salone Sansoviniano of the Marciana Library.

Monday, 16 November 2015

International collaboration produces atlas of Europe’s paleoclimate

St Andrews Researcher, Dr Rob Wilson (Senior Lecturer, Department of Earth and Environment Sciences), is involved in an international collaboration led by Professor Edward Cook at Columbia University using tree rings to produce a new paleoclimate atlas of past European drought.

To date, the long history of severe droughts across Europe and the Mediterranean has largely been told through historical documents and ancient journals, each chronicling the impact in a geographically restricted area. Now, for the first time, an atlas, based on tree-ring data, maps the reach and severity of dry and wet periods across Europe and parts of North Africa and the Middle East over the past 2,000 years.

This new data-set for Europe will complement two previous drought atlases covering North America and Asia allowing scientists to pinpoint causes of drought and extreme rainfall in the past and identify patterns that could lead to better climate model projections for the future. The new atlas could also improve understanding of climate phenomena like the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation, a variation in North Atlantic sea-surface temperatures that hasn’t been tracked long enough to tell if it is a transitory event, forced by human intervention in the climate system, or a natural long-term oscillation.

The importance of understanding past climate change and its impact on human society cannot be underestimated.  For example, an unusually cold winter and spring are often blamed for the 1740-1741 famine in Ireland. The Old World Drought Atlas points to another contributor: rainfall well below normal during the spring and summer of 1741. The atlas shows how the drought spread across Ireland, England and Wales.

The atlas also tracks the reach of the great European famine of 1315-1317, when historical documents describe how excessive precipitation across much of the continent made growing food nearly impossible. The atlas tracks the hydroclimate across Europe and shows its yearly progressions from 1314 to 1317 in detail, including highlighting drier conditions in southern Italy, which largely escaped the crisis.

More information on The University of St Andrews Tree-Ring Laboratory can be found here: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~rjsw/TRL/

Research Publication:  Cook et al. (2015). Old World megadroughts and pluvials during the Common Era. Science Advances. 1 (11). e1500561. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500561

Thursday, 22 October 2015

St Andrews Researcher wins the 7th International Medicine PG Award

Senior Lecturer (School of Psychology and Neuroscience), Dr Gareth Miles has won the 7th International Medicine PG award.   The award given by the Paulo Gontijo Institute supports the research of young researchers to promote the cure of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Dr. Miles is Co-Director of the Institute of Behavioral and Neural Sciences at the University of St. Andrews and partner member of the Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research at the University of Edinburgh in the UK."My lab investigates how motor neurons affected by ALS lose the ability to generate the electrical signals required to make muscles contract due to changes in specialised proteins called ion channels. This work highlights new targets that could lead to new treatments for ALS."

The International Medicine PG Award is recognised by the international scientific community, and its partners the International Alliance of ALS, Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) and the European Community for Research for the Cure of ALS (ENCALS). Dr Miles will receive $20,000 and a gold medal during the 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND to be held in Orlando (USA) in December.

[Press Release]
Research Publication: 
A.C. Devlin, K. Burr, S. Borooah, J. D. Foster, E. M. Cleary, I. Geti, L. Vallier, C. E. Shaw, S. Chandran and G. B. Miles (2015). Human iPSC-derived motoneurons harbouring TARDBP or C9ORF72 ALS mutations are dysfunctional despite maintaining viability. Nature Communications, 6:5999 doi:10.1038/ncomms6999