Continents prone to destruction in their infancy, study finds

Earth continents
Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Monash University geologists have shed new light on the early history of the Earth through their discovery that continents were weak and prone to destruction in their infancy.

Their research, which relies on mathematical modeling, is published today in Nature.

The Earth is our home and over its 4,500,000,000 (4.5 billion) year history has evolved to form the environment we live in and the resources on which we depend.

However, the early history of Earth, covering its first 1.5 billion years remains almost unknown and, consequently, poorly understood.

“This was the time of formation of the first continents, the emergence of land, the development of the early atmosphere, and the appearance of primordial life—all of which are the result of the dynamics of our planet’s interiors,” said lead study author ARC Future Fellow Dr. Fabio Capitanio from the Monash University School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment.

“Reproducing the conditions of the early Earth in computer-generated numerical models, we show that the release of internal primordial heat, three to four times that of the present-day, caused large melting in the shallow mantle, which was then extruded as magma (molten rock) onto the Earth’s surface,” he said.

According to the researchers, the shallow mantle left behind by this process was dehydrated and rigid and formed the keels of the first continents.

“Our results explain that continents remained weak and prone to destruction in their infancy, ~4.5 to ~4.0 billion years ago, and then progressively differentiated and became rigid over the next billion years to form the core of our modern continents,” Dr. Capitanio said.

“The emergence of these rigid early continents resulted in their weathering and erosion, changing the composition of the atmosphere and providing nutrients to the ocean seeding the development of life.”

Dr. Capitanio specialises in investigating the dynamics of the Earth’s tectonics and plate motions to better understand the mechanisms that force single plates or whole-Earth changes.

The work adds to the knowledge on supercontinent formation and its fragmentation into the present-day continents.

The quantitative model used in the study explains the enigmatic melt degrees and layered structures observed in most cratons on Earth.

The process shows that continents remain weak and prone to destruction in their infancy, then progressively melt and differentiate to become stable continents.

This accounts for the transition from the Hadean, covering the first 500 million years of Earth history, in which crust was completely recycled, to the Archean (four to three billion years ago), when rigid continental keels built up and remain preserved through time.

“The geological record suggests that the very early continents did not survive and were recycled in the planet’s interiors, yet this trend dramatically inverted approximately four billion years ago, when the most enduring piece of continents, cratons, appeared,” Dr. Capitanio said.

Only tiny crystals remain from Earth’s earliest continental crust, formed more than 4 billion years ago. The mysterious disappearance of this crust can now be explained. The very process that formed new crust,

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Entry barriers for women are amplified by AI in recruitment algorithms, study finds

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Human gender biases that limit recruitment opportunities for women are mimicked and exacerbated by artificial intelligence (AI) used for sorting resumés, according to new research.

The study, commissioned by UniBank, analyzed how a panel of 40 human recruiters reacted when the exact same resumés were presented with male and female genders interchanged. The process was then applied to different hiring algorithms to see if the AI replicated human biases.

The research found the human recruiting panel demonstrated the strongest examples of unintentional bias, consistently preferring resumés of the male candidates over female equivalents.

Report co-author and gender policies researcher from the University’s Policy Lab, Associate Professor Leah Ruppanner said we know that more women than men have lost their job during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, for data and finance roles, women’s resumés were ranked lower than men by our human panelists though they had the same qualifications and experience,” Professor Ruppanner said.

Report co-author and digital ethics researcher from the Center for AI and Digital Ethics (CAIDE), Dr. Marc Cheong said algorithms were then developed by the researchers to replicate the preferences of the human panel.

Credit: University of Melbourne

The research showed even basic algorithms could mimic subconscious human gender bias without taking into account the merits of a candidate.

“Even when the names of the candidates were removed, AI assessed resumés based on historic hiring patterns where preferences leaned towards male candidates. For example, giving advantage to candidates with years of continuous service would automatically disadvantage women who’ve taken time off work for caring responsibilities,” Dr. Cheong said.

“Also, in the case of more advanced AIs that operate within a “black box” without transparency or human oversight, there is a danger that any amount of initial bias will be amplified.”

UniBank General Manager, Mike Lanzing, said as the use of artificial intelligence becomes more common, it is important that to understand how existing biases are feeding into supposedly impartial models.

Credit: University of Melbourne

“We need to take care that we are not reversing decades of progress towards women’s financial independence and security by reinforcing outdated attitudes about the sort of work women are suited to,” Mr Lanzing said.

The report suggested a number of measures that could reduce bias in these processes including training programs for human resource professionals and creating transparent hiring algorithms designed to reduce gender bias.

Female bosses favour gay and lesbian job-seekers, research finds

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Largest ever study of working parents finds Best Places to Work

Spoiler alert: Companies that provide better benefits and greater flexibility to working parents are seeing a return on their investment, according to Great Place to Work’s Annual Study of the Best Workplaces for Parents.

COVID-19 changed the way we work, perhaps for good. Remote working policies that focus on greater flexibility and different ways of measuring productivity have emerged since the pandemic forced many employers to reassess what it takes to engage workers. This is particularly true when it comes to measuring the contributions of working parents (particularly women), many of whom are juggling remote learning for their kids in addition to their own responsibilities.

Polling over 400,000 working parents, Great Place to Work’s data science team analyzed data from the workers who answered more than 60 questions on its Trust Index survey to come up with a list of current best employers for working parents. In addition to that, they measured written phrases and demographics to reveal why some parents experience a more positive work environment. The results make a strong business case for employers who support working parents. Among the highlighted findings from the report:

  • Companies that invest in employees and their families see 5.5 times more revenue growth thanks to greater innovation,
    higher talent retention, and increased productivity.
  • When working parents experience positive company culture, their organizations gain more than double the number of employees ready to innovate than their competitors which translates to revenue
  • When companies reduce burnout, their employees are 20x more likely to stay.
  • The Best Workplaces are thinking beyond maternity leave to provide benefits ranging from fertility coverage to return-to-work coaching to support finding child care.

Additionally, 93% of working men without children and 93% of working women without children who work for a company that invests in its working parent population say theirs is a great place to work. Eighty-nine percent of all workers at the best places for working parents say they want to remain there for a long time.

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Up to 50% of university students unhappy with online learning, regulator finds

A “very large proportion” of university students do not like online learning and “do not wish to ever experience it again”, according to a wide-ranging report from the higher education regulator.

A review of student feedback has identified remote learning as “a problem” if it continues into 2021, after universities adopted it during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Students said it resulted in a “lack of engagement”, less time overall in class, isolation from their peers, IT issues, and made examinations and assessments particularly difficult and potentially unfair.

Related: Australian universities made $2.3bn profit in 2019 but $10bn of revenue was overseas student fees

Particular degrees like engineering, science, visual and performing arts were also especially affected by the lack of practical learning.

In recent months, Western Australia’s Murdoch University and Curtin University have announced that they will maintain online-only classes in 2021. At Murdoch, lectures will be online while “most” tutorials will remain face-to-face, and there will be more physical classes in fields of medicine, molecular and forensic sciences. Curtin plans to make all lectures online under a draft proposal.

The report, from the national Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, collected feedback surveys from 118 higher education providers across semester one.

It found that between 33% and 50% of students were unhappy with online learning.

“A very large proportion of respondents … commented that they did not like the experience of online learning and did not wish to ever experience it again,” the report said.

“These are large numbers across the sector and present a problem if the transition to online study must remain well into 2021.”

While the report said that most responses to online learning were positive, “a significant percentage … indicated that they did not wish to continue with remote study and wished to return to a face-to-face experience as soon as possible”.

The TEQSA also flagged a “somewhat disturbing” finding that many students did not want to use their video in online classes because they were ashamed about the appearance of their homes, or the presence of family members, after they were suddenly forced to take all classes from home.

When asked what “did not work well”, 41% of respondents reported IT problems, 34% said there was a lack of academic interaction, 30% said the assessments caused issues and 29% said there was a lack of engagement.

Fifteen per cent of respondents said online learning created issues with isolation, finance and their housing or home environment.

Between 20% and 22% of students had a positive response, and said they liked the “flexible access to materials” provided by online learning.

However, students also reported that the length of their online classes was shorter than their face-to-face classes, but they also had to do more work.

“Significant” issues were raised degrees like engineering or visual arts, that had important practical elements, or the final “capstone” years of other degrees, that often required internships or practical skills.

“It was reported many times that the duration of classes … was

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New Study Finds These Tropical Fish Can Live To Be Over 80 Years Old

How long do fish live? 10 years? Twenty? Try over 80 years, according to new research on snappers.

Before now, the oldest known snapper was recorded at 60 years old, two decades younger than findings recently published in the journal Coral Reefs. Does this twenty-year age gap matter? According to fisheries scientist and the study’s lead author Dr. Brett Taylor, it matters quite a bit.

Snappers serve as an important food source around the world. Despite the snapper’s importance, the global snapper fishery is, in large part, poorly managed. This, combined with the high market value of some snapper species, led the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to officially label red snapper as ‘at risk’ for illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and market fraud in 2015.

Snappers were known to be ‘long-lived’ species before the recent discovery of the 80-year-old fish. In fact, the snapper’s long lifespan is part of what makes the fish susceptible to exploitation. “There is a direct relationship between life span and how quickly a population can replenish itself through reproduction,” explains Taylor. “Long-lived marine fishes have evolved a strategy that allows them to buffer against periods of poor environmental conditions by having lots of mature, spawning individuals present in the populations. This strategy, however, did not evolve alongside the additional pressure of fishing, which directly removes these larger and older fish from the population.”

To better understand the effects of fishing – and potentially overfishing – on snappers, Taylor and his team studied three species of snappers that are not commercially or recreationally fished. “This allowed us to examine something more similar to ‘natural population structures’ that have not been truncated or otherwise affected by fishing pressure,” explains Taylor. With a lack of fishing pressure, knowledge of the age of these snapper species compared to commercially harvested species could provide important insights into the fishing’s effects on exploited snapper populations.

In addition to studying the age of the three snapper species, Taylor and his co-authors looked at whether snapper growth rates or life spans changed with different temperatures. In warm climates, cold-blooded animals like fish must use extra energy to compensate for their warm surroundings.

Before the widespread use of using fish ear stones (otoliths) to determine a fish’s age, in a manner not so different from counting rings inside a tree, scientists largely thought tropical fish were relatively short-lived species. “However, seminal research in the 1980s and 1990s showed us that many types of tropical reef fishes have extended life spans, way past what we previously presumed,” explains Taylor.

While Taylor’s research revealed

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Hong Kong university students’ internships yet another casualty of coronavirus pandemic, survey finds

a group of people standing in a parking lot: Internships for Hong Kong students have been much harder to come by this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Winson Wong

Internships for Hong Kong students have been much harder to come by this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Winson Wong

Nearly half of Hong Kong university students lost or were unable to find internships due to the coronavirus pandemic, while half of those who did were forced to get their job experience virtually, a new survey has found.

Internship openings listed on a joint system shared by local universities decreased by about 30 per cent this year, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups found, prompting a call for the government to provide funding to allow students to take part in more expensive overseas internship opportunities.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted internships and we have seen a large drop in the number of openings being offered,” said Derek Lee Ka-wai, of the federation’s think tank, Youth IDEAS education group.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

Hong Kong’s economy shrunk by 3.4 per cent in the third quarter compared to last year, as key drivers of growth such as tourism and consumption have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Will revamping Hong Kong’s liberal studies end critical thinking among students?

Dr Frankie Lam King-sun, the director of Lingnan University’s human resource management and organisational behaviour programme, said companies were already facing difficulties in managing existing manpower, even asking employees to work fewer hours to deal with a shrinking economy.

“There is very little incentive for companies to hire interns for both big or small companies,” he said.

Lee said work-from-home measures encouraged by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus had also changed how students interned, with both universities and corporations switching to online “virtual” internships.

But Youth IDEAS’ latest survey, conducted between late September and mid-October, found students still valued internships as an important way for them to learn the ropes of their chosen fields and to network and build contacts.

a group of people standing around a bench: The number of internships available to students shrank by some 30 per cent, according to one measure. Photo: Nora Tam

© Provided by South China Morning Post
The number of internships available to students shrank by some 30 per cent, according to one measure. Photo: Nora Tam

According to the think tank’s survey of 877 recent graduates and university students in their second year and above, 48 per cent either had their internships postponed or cancelled, or were unable to find any at all.

Shirley Ko Suet-lai, also from Youth IDEAS, said students who could not find internships were still proactive in seeking out job experience, with more than 50 per cent of them taking up part-time employment and 37 per cent choosing to learn new skills.

Meanwhile, out of the 457 students who did find internships, nearly 55 per cent did their work virtually. The students surveyed came from different fields, including law, accounting and even speech therapy, with respondents saying they would have meetings online or hold therapy sessions virtually.

Some 65 per cent of those students said virtual internships decreased the chances for them to interact with their

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London’s dirty air increases risk of catching Covid-19, Queen Mary University research finds

Vehicle pollution appears to increase the risk of contracting Covid-19, London scientists have discovered.

Researchers took PM10 particulates captured in Marylebone Road and tested them on laboratory-grown human nose and throat cells.

They found that these airborne pollutants increased the body’s susceptibility to contracting the virus.

Professor Jonathan Grigg, lead researcher at Queen Mary University of London, said the early findings showed the importance of ongoing measures to clean up the capital’s air.

He said the nose was the “front door” through which the virus entered the body – and that pollutants could effectively widen the door by making the cells more of a target for covid.

This is because toxins increase the amount of an enzyme known as ACE2 on the surface of the cells in the nose and lower throat, making them more receptive to covid, probably for a “short-term period”.

Prof Grigg told the Standard: “Most people breathe through the nose. That means these cells are being exposed to the highest concentrations of pollutants in the environment.  

“If a virus comes along in the one, two, three hours that this receptor is increased, you have got increased susceptibility. That increased ACE2 receptor means that more virus gets in.”

He said the study, which was funded with almost £50,000 from Barts Charity [PLS KEEP], showed a “plausible mechanism” linking environmental conditions and levels of covid infection.

It meant that in imposing the first lockdown, the Government had unintentionally “done the right thing” by advising people to stay at home and thus decreasing traffic.

Traffic levels have since risen above “normal” levels as Londoners avoid public transport. “We need to move to cleaner cars that produce less particles,” he said.

“We need to remove the most polluting of vehicles – diesel cars and vans which are producing a large proportion of nitrogen dioxide in the city. It may be that the extension of the ultra-low emission zone will do that.”

The Ulez is due to expand from central London to the North and South Circular roads by October next year, meaning drivers of older, more polluting vehicles will be charged £12.50 a day to use them.

The next stage of the study may be to swab people walking, cycling or driving in heavily polluted areas. This could also assess whether mask-wearing has a beneficial effect.

The charity funding was one of several “seed grants” to help provide insight into the pathology and impact of a number of conditions affecting the health of east Londoners, including covid.

Previously, data from existing epidemiological studies had been unable to provide clear answers to the question of whether breathing in pollutants increased the risk of disease.

Professor Grigg, an expert in paediatric respiratory and environmental medicine, said: “The importance of this work is that it aims to show that the association between exposure to increased fossil fuel pollution and increased vulnerability to Covid-19 reported in population studies is biologically plausible.”

Fiona Miller Smith, chief executive of Barts Charity, said: “We’re extremely pleased to

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Carrying Children In Cargo Bikes Can Be Dangerous, New Report Finds

Cargo bikes are becoming more widely used by transportation and delivery companies. Some studies estimate that in years to come, with the variety of models coming on the market and sales growing rapidly, cargo bikes will be used for about 50% of the delivering of goods. 

Families, too, have recognized the benefits of these increasingly popular modes of transport, but carrying children in them can be dangerous and are only safe if parents strap them in.

Those are the main findings of new research showing that children can safely ride on cargo bikes, but only when the bike is equipped with a seat belt system – and when this system is actually used. The results were released on Thursday by DEKRA, a company based in Germany that conducts automotive testing, inspection and crash research.  

“When the dummy was strapped in, its position hardly changed when the brakes were applied,” Peter Rücker, Head of DEKRA Accident Research, said in a statement.. “In the test in which the dummy was not strapped in, however, the dummy was thrown out of the box and hit its head on the road. An accident like this would result in severe head injuries – especially without a helmet.”

The analysis was based on a series of tests conducted for the DEKRA Road Safety Report 2020, which examined two-wheeled modes of transportation from a variety of perspectives.  The annual report focuses on a different topic every year. 

Testing for the cargo bike study was conducted at Dekra’s Technology Center in Brandenburg, Germany. Experts assessed and compared two scenarios: with a child dummy strapped in with the seat belt system offered by the manufacturer and placed on the seat in the cargo box and not strapped in. Braking was performed with the bicycle’s own brakes from a speed of 25 km/h.

This year’s report highlighted the benefits of cargo bikes to families. Unlike conventional child bicycle seats, it said, cargo bikes can accommodate two children, which makes it easier for parents, and they provide their young passengers with ample space to move around.

And compared to traveling in a trailer when they are in the parent’s field of vision, in cargo bikes, children can better enjoy the view around them.

But the report’s researchers also stressed the importance of safety and issued a series of recommendations:

  • Whenever parents or other caretakers let children ride on a cargo bike, they must always make sure they are strapped in. 
  •  To offer protection in order to prevent head injuries during collisions with other road users, a helmet is “urgently recommended.”
  • Bicycle retailers should always ask customers how they intend to use their cargo bikes. “The dealer should insist that the customer purchase a suitable model fitted with a seat belt system,” the report suggested, if they plan to transport children. 


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Survey finds university graduates are more likely to think life is unfair

Think life is unfair? It’s likely you’re a university graduate: Survey finds fewer than one in three believe they get what they deserve

  • University graduates more likely to think life in Britain is unfair, survey found
  • Fewer than one in three believe they get what they deserve, researchers found
  • But nearly half of those who never progressed beyond GCSEs think people tend to get out of life what they put in, the report discovered 

University graduates are much more likely to think life in Britain is unfair, researchers found.

Fewer than one in three believe they get what they deserve, a survey discovered.  

But nearly half of those who never progressed beyond GCSEs – and who are usually poorer – think people tend to get out of life what they put in.

Women are less likely than men to believe adults get what they deserve, the report found.

Those who think society is unjust are also more likely to be politically active, often with Left-wing views. There was little difference between age groups over feelings of inequality. 

University graduates are much more likely to think life in Britain is unfair, researchers found (file picture)

University graduates are much more likely to think life in Britain is unfair, researchers found (file picture)

The Government-funded British Social Attitudes survey was based on interviews with nearly 3,000 adults.

It said: ‘Although those with lower levels of education are likely to have less wealth than those with degrees, they are still less likely to say differences in wealth are too large.  

‘This suggests that these perceptions are not simply driven by an individual’s personal interest and experience of British society.’

The findings are likely to reinforce the perception that a highly-educated and often metropolitan elite cling largely to left-wing economic thinking, while a less favoured majority of the population are happier to accept that some people will make more money than others.

They follow last year’s general election rejection of Jeremy Corbyn’s left-led Labour Party by the ‘red wall’ seats in the north of England.

The survey found that 32 per cent of those educated to degree level thought people get what they deserve, against 47 per cent of people educated to GCSE standard or less.

A similar pattern showed itself when people were broken down by income. Nearly half, 46 per cent, of the poorest fifth of people thought people get what they deserve, against only 37 per cent of the richest fifth.

The findings are likely to reinforce the perception that a highly-educated and often metropolitan elite cling largely to left-wing economic thinking. They follow last year's general election rejection of Jeremy Corbyn's (pictured) left-led Labour Party by the 'red wall' seats in the north of England

The findings are likely to reinforce the perception that a highly-educated and often metropolitan elite cling largely to left-wing economic thinking. They follow last year’s general election rejection of Jeremy Corbyn’s (pictured) left-led Labour Party by the ‘red wall’ seats in the north of England

Women were more likely to object to inequality than men. Some 33 per cent thought the deserving usually win out, against 45 per cent of men.

There was little difference between age groups over whether Britain is an unfair

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Climate change may increase drownings as ice thins, study finds

Falling through ice and drowning is a perennial risk in northern communities where winter ice is a defining part of the environment. But to Leary, the four-wheeler accident stuck out as an especially harrowing one, in part because of its timing: It occurred in late March 2019, a time of year when the Kuskokwim River, which runs through Bethel, should be frozen solid and safe for locals to use as a highway to drive from place to place.

“I thought to myself as I was [going] out there — this shouldn’t be happening,” Leary said in an interview. “We should have at least another month of safe travel on river ice.”

Far from an isolated incident, Leary’s experience reflects a reality facing northern communities around the world: As winters grow warmer because of climate change, seasonal lake, river and sea ice is becoming treacherous. Now, a new study is warning that this trend could have widespread and tragic consequences.

The research, published last week in the journal PLOS One, examined records of more than 4,000 fatal winter drownings worldwide alongside weather and climate records. It found that winter drowning events “increase exponentially” as air temperatures approach 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the freezing point of water. The findings point to a potential for more drownings as winters become milder, with small children and people in remote Indigenous communities facing an acute risk.

“This is the saddest research I’ve ever done,” Sapna Sharma, an associate professor of biology at York University in Canada and the lead author of the new study, said in an interview.

In many northern countries, warmer winters are one of the clearest signals of climate change. In Canada, wintertime air temperatures have risen nearly six degrees over the past 73 years, faster than in any other season. In parts of Alaska, winter has warmed by closer to 10 degrees. In Finland, winters have warmed by about five degrees.

This rapid winter warming is having a clear effect on winter ice. Rivers, lakes and even parts of the open ocean that have long served as seasonal ice roads or sturdy platforms for fishing and recreation are freezing up later in the fall, thawing earlier in the spring and becoming less stable throughout the winter. A huge number of people face potential harm: Research published last year in Nature Climate Change found that a 1.8-degree Fahrenheit uptick in global average temperatures could cause 100 million people to lose access to a reliably frozen lake in winter.

“We know that lakes are warming; lake ice is melting earlier in the spring, forming later in the fall; and that we have more freeze-thaw events and thinner ice,” Sharma said. “And we wondered if that directly affected people.”

To answer that question, Sharma and an international team of collaborators compiled nearly 30 years of records of fatal winter drownings from coroners’ offices, local police stations and lifesaving societies in 10 countries that are home to seasonally frozen rivers and lakes, including Canada, the United

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