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Dec. 18, 2012 at 7:04 PM
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Dead Sea Scrolls go digital on Internet

JERUSALEM, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The digitizing of the Dead Sea Scrolls means an important historical find of the 20th century is open to anyone with an Internet connection, researchers say.

The Israel Antiquities Authority and Google have completed a project to create an archive of online high-resolution images of the 2,000-year-old scrolls, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday.

Google's research and development center in Israel worked with the antiquities authority for two years to upload digitized images of thousands of fragments of the scrolls, a window into the life of Jews and early Christians at the time of Jesus.

"What's exciting about this launch is that users from all over the world can access these ancient scrolls, through wherever they are, and they can experience them through any device, anywhere in the world," Yossi Matias, head of the Google-Israel R&D center, said.

Around 4,000 fragments have been uploaded to the website, with the eventual goal of uploading all tens of thousands of them, the IAA said.

While access to the scrolls, discovered in 1947, was restricted for many years, access has been widened in recent years for scholars and the public alike.

Microbial life hitches ride to N. America

SEATTLE, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Large dust plumes originating in Asia are delivering thousands of species of microbial life to the North American West Coast, biologists say.

Researchers at the University of Washington report they've found evidence of 2,100 unique microbial species hitching rides across the Pacific Ocean in the upper troposphere.

"The long-range transport and surprising level of species richness in the upper atmosphere overturns traditional paradigms in aerobiology," David J. Smith, who recently earned a doctorate in biology and astrobiology, said. "It's a small world. Global wind circulation can move Earth's smallest types of life to just about anywhere."

An estimated 7.1 million tons of aerosols -- dust, pollutants and other atmospheric particles, including microorganisms -- cross the Pacific each year, researchers said, carried by wind storms into the upper reaches of the troposphere.

The troposphere, the layer of air closest to earth up to about 11 miles, is where almost all weather occurs.

Large plumes of aerosols in the troposphere can make the trans-Pacific trip in just seven to 10 days, the researchers said. Most of the microorganisms originated from soils in Asia and were either dead on arrival in North American or harmless to humans, they said.

However, while most of the species are already present in low background levels on the West Coast, the atmospheric plumes can bring elevated levels of the organisms, researchers said.

"I was very surprised at the concentrations. One might expect the concentrations of cells to decrease with altitude based on fallout and dilution," Smith said. "But during these plume events, the atmosphere was pooling these cells just as it does with other kinds of air pollution."

Hurricane Sandy doubled Internet outages

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Hurricane Sandy doubled the average level of Internet outages in the United States and it took four days to bring it back to normal levels, U.S. scientists say.

Computer scientists at the University of Southern California who track Internet outages throughout the world said when the hurricane hit the East coast, the outages doubled from 0.2 percent of the Internet being down -- about average -- to 0.43 percent, a USC release reported Tuesday.

"On a national scale, the amount of outage is small, showing how robust the Internet is," John Heidemann of the USC Information Sciences Institute said. "However, this significant increase in outages shows the large impact Sandy had on our national infrastructure."

During the hurricane the researchers sent tiny packets of data known as "pings" to networks and waited for "echoes" or responses, a method that can provide a statistically reasonable picture of when parts of the Internet are active or down.

The researchers were also able to pinpoint locations of outages, detecting a spike in outages in New Jersey and New York after Sandy made landfall.

Knowing scale and location of outages could guide Internet service providers in allocating resources to respond to disasters, the researchers said.

"We are working to improve the coverage of our techniques to provide a nearly real-time view of outages across the entire Internet," Heidemann said. "We hope that our approach can help first responders quickly understand the scope of evolving natural disasters."

Coal said to overtake oil as energy source

PARIS, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Coal's share of the global energy mix is rising and it could overtake oil as the world's top energy source by 2017, an energy market report says.

The report by the International Energy Agency, based in Paris, predicts coal demand will increase in every region of the world except in the United States, where coal is being supplanted by shale gas.

"Thanks to abundant supplies and insatiable demand for power from emerging markets, coal met nearly half of the rise in global energy demand during the first decade of the 21st Century," IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in an agency release Monday.

That trend is likely to continue, she said.

"In fact, the world will burn around 1.2 billion more tons of coal per year by 2017 compared to today -- equivalent to the current coal consumption of Russia and the United States combined."

China will surpass the rest of the world in coal demand during that time period, the report predicted, while India will become the largest coal importer and second-largest consumer, overtaking the United States.

"Coal's share of the global energy mix continues to grow each year, and if no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade," van der Hoeven said.

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