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Last week in science: refreezing the Arctic and matrilinial families

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Michelle Andonian/OnInnovation | The Daily Wildcat

Bill Gates from the "Collecting Innovation Today" interview in June 2009, as a part of The Henry Ford's "OnInnovation" project that celebrates the contributions of today's innovators. Gates recently argued that companies utilizing increasing automation should pay a tax.

In addition to NASA's big news on possibly-habitable planets nearby, last week saw a number of other big events in the world of science. Here's the scoop.

Evidence of matrilineal society in New Mexico 1,200 years ago

Advances in ancient DNA and genomic sequencing have allowed scientists to discover signs they believe show a matrilineal dynasty existed in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico and lasted around 330 years, from 800 – 1130 A.D.

By using radiocarbon dating and nuclear DNA analysis on bodies taken from a crypt at Pueblo Bonito—a major cultural site Chaco Canyon National Historical Park—scientists demonstrated close mother-daughter and grandmother-grandson hereditary relationships.

Most mammals, including humans, inherit their mitochondrial DNA from their mothers. The DNA analysis revealed that a group of bodies found in the same crypt contained the same mitochondrial DNA molecules—leading the researchers to conclude that Chaco society focused on the mother's hereditary line and not the father's.

However, though this evidence shows that the Chacoan society passed social status from mothers to children, other conclusions shouldn't be jumped to. 

“This is not a matriarchy, where women controlled society,” explained Pennsylvania State University archaeologist and study leader Douglas Kennett, in an interview with Quartz. “Both men and women were influential, and were leaders in the Chaco society, but basically that influence was passed along the maternal line.”
Thus, the largest question remaining for Kennett and his team is how this maternal lineage might have affected the rise and eventual downfall of the dynasty.

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Refreezing the ice caps to slow climate change

The rate of ice loss in the Arctic ice caps has been estimated at 3.2 percent per decade. A significant component of this loss is the product of something called albedo.

Albedo is a measure of the reflectivity of light off Earth’s surface. Fresh snow has an extremely high albedo of around .8 to .9, meaning it reflects up to around 90 percent of the light that hits it. Ice has a lower average albedo and water is much less reflective still, absorbing most of the light it encounters.

As fresh snow melts, the ice caps become less reflective and begin to absorb more light from the sun, due to the puddles of melted water that form. Continuous summers growing progressively warmer mean the Arctic Ocean has been unable to maintain its reflective surface, accelerating the melting process.

A research team at Arizona State University, led by physics assistant professor Steven Desch, has considered a possible solution that could potentially protect Arctic ice and snow during the warmer summer months

By placing wind-powered water pumps on the Arctic ice, they argue that liquid water can be pumped to the surface during the Arctic winter. This would allow for the growth of more ice during the winter, which would help rebuild its reflective surface and help the ice survive the summer months.

Based on their calculations, the project would cost around $500 billion per year to account for the 10 percent of the Arctic ocean most threatened by melting—enough to stem the loss of ice since 2000.

Though garnering support and finding the funding for such a project will be a major hurdle to overcome, the team at ASU believes numerous coastal cities could be spared total devastation and trillions of dollars saved by investing in the future of the polar icecaps.

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Bill Gates says robot workers of the future should be taxed

Microsoft founder and world's richest man Bill Gates recently shared his perspective on automation in an interview with Quartz

“Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, Social Security tax, all those things," Gates said. "If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level."

Gates proposed that these taxes could come from the money saved by using automated workers, something that he believes many companies would offer little resistance to. But his tax idea has already been proposed and rejected by European lawmakers.

Though the problem is one for the future, Gates argued discussion should begin right away. “Exactly how you’d do it, measure, you know, it’s interesting for people to start talking about now."


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