Tag Archives: dying oceans

World Bank issues SOS for oceans, backs alliance

NewsDaily: World Bank issues SOS for oceans, backs alliance.

 

By David FogartyPosted 2012/02/24 at 12:41 am EST

SINGAPORE, Feb. 24, 2012 (Reuters) — The World Bank announced on Friday a global alliance to better manage and protect the world’s oceans, which are under threat from over-fishing, pollution and climate change.



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Oceans are the lifeblood of the planet and the global economy, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told a conference on ocean conservation in Singapore. Yet the seas have become overexploited, coastlines badly degraded and reefs under threat from pollution and rising temperatures.

“We need a new SOS: Save Our Seas,” Zoellick said in announcing the alliance.

The partnership would bring together countries, scientific centers, non-governmental groups, international organizations, foundations and the private sector, he said.

The World Bank could help guide the effort by bringing together existing global ocean conservation programs and support efforts to mobilize finance and develop market-mechanisms to place a value on the benefits that oceans provide.

Millions of people rely on oceans for jobs and food and that dependence will grow as the world’s population heads for 9 billion people, underscoring the need to better manage the seas.

Zoellick said the alliance was initially committed to mobilizing at least $300 million in finance.

“Working with governments, the scientific community, civil society organizations, and the private sector, we aim to leverage as much as $1.2 billion to support healthy and sustainable oceans.”

FISH STOCKS

A key focus was understanding the full value of the oceans’ wealth and ecosystem services. Oceans are the top source of oxygen, help regulate the climate, while mangroves, reefs and wetlands are critical to protecting increasingly populous coastal areas against hazards such as storms — benefits that are largely taken for granted.

“Whatever the resource, it is impossible to evolve a plan to manage and grow the resource without knowing its value,” he said.

Another aim was to rebuild at least half the world’s fish stocks identified as depleted. About 85 percent of ocean fisheries are fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted.

“We should increase the annual net benefits of fisheries to between $20 billion and $30 billion. We estimate that global fisheries currently run a net economic loss of about $5 billion per year,” he said.

Participants at the conference spoke of the long-term dividends from ocean conservation and better management of its resources. But that needed economists, bankers and board rooms to place a value on the oceans’ “natural capital”.

“The key to the success of this partnership will be new market mechanisms that value natural capital and can attract private finance,” Abyd Karmali, global head of carbon markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told Reuters.

He pointed to the value in preserving carbon-rich mangrove forests and sea grassbeds and the possibility of earning carbon offsets for projects that conserve these areas.

“The oceans’ stock is in trouble. We have diminished its asset value to a huge degree and poor asset management is poor economics,” Stephen Palumbi, director of the Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, told the conference.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

Seaweed Kills Corals by Touch

Seaweed With a Deadly Touch – ScienceNOW.

 

Green plague. In Fiji, rarely fished reefs (top) abound with colorful corals, but seaweeds start their invasions in exploited locales (bottom)

“Attack of the killer seaweed” may sound like a cheesy horror flick, but for many coral species, murderous multicellular algae have become real-life villains. A new study of reefs in the South Pacific suggests that some algae can poison coral on contact. This chemical warfare may be increasing the pressure on struggling reef communities worldwide, researchers say.

Along the reefs dotting Fiji, overfishing has pitted corals against algae in a battle royale. On swaths of coastline where fishing is restricted, corals such as the tall and branching Acropora millepora rule, says study co-author Mark Hay, a marine ecologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

But where Fijians spear lots of herbivores such as bird-beaked parrotfish, few fish remain to prune back the region’s seaweeds, a blanket term for many types of big algae. These algae then creep in, extending their tendrils over close to 60% of the ocean bottom, Hay estimates, and turning waters a sludgy green. Such “seaweed-covered parking lots” aren’t unique to Fiji, either, he says.

Recent studies have hinted that this ocean greenery may be carrying out a subtle chemical war on sensitive reefs. To investigate this covert struggle, Hay and colleagues strung eight different species of Fijian seaweed across growing corals, including A. millepora colonies. True to the researchers’ suspicions, many of these algal species seemed to wield a poison touch. In less than 2 weeks, the test coral often began to discolor and even die where it rubbed against the seaweeds, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Faux seaweeds made of plastic had no such effect.

Hay and colleagues then mashed up several of these seaweeds to identify their killer concoction. The key ingredient turned out to be chemicals called terpenes, which some algae use to sicken fish that feed on them. Terpene extracts alone killed off corals, the researchers found. But some algae seemed to be more liberal with their toxins than others, Hay notes. When one particularly nasty specimen called turtle weed (Chlorodesmis fastigiata) rubs against A. millepora, for instance, wide bands of dying tissue girdle the coral.

This seaweed is so nasty, in fact, that most marine herbivores avoid it on sight—except for one species of rabbitfish that quivers with excitement every time it spots this not-so-common algae. That interaction highlights the importance of prudent fishing practices, he adds. If Fijians developed a particular taste for that one rabbitfish, for instance, turtle weed might begin to grow out of control, launching its bid for world, or at least South Pacific, domination. Hay would like to work with Fijians to identify and protect the herbivores most responsible for trimming back deadly seaweeds, giving sensitive corals a fighting chance.

“It’s certainly a novel finding,” says John Bruno, a marine ecologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. But not all seaweeds are poisonous, he adds. Many scientists argue that algae—toxins or no—rarely kill off adult corals en masse. Instead, these opportunistic organisms may simply be capitalizing on the slow death of the invertebrates due to pollution, climate change, or other factors. He adds, however, that the seaweeds Hay and colleagues studied would likely be exceptionally toxic to young, coin-sized corals that have yet to grow big and hale.

Terpenes from seaweed are almost certainly not the only reason for the mysterious global decline of corals, says Jennifer Smith, a marine ecologist at the University of California, San Diego. Most scientists rank overfishing, pollution, and warming oceans among the biggest overall contributors. But corals may suffer from other nasty tricks played by seaweed. In a 2006 study, Smith and colleagues sleuthed out that some California algae could take the epidemic route to domination. In the lab, these seaweeds leak huge quantities of dissolved carbon that then fuels the spread of potentially infectious microbes on coral surfaces. “You can imagine that [algae and corals] have evolved over the years different mechanisms for battling each other and fighting these turf wars,” Smith says.

Europe's oceans changing at unprecedented rate

Europe’s oceans changing at unprecedented rate: report | Reuters.

LONDON | Tue Sep 13, 2011 3:26pm EDT

(Reuters) – Europe’s seas are changing at an unprecedented rate as ice sheets melt, temperatures rise and marine life migrates due to climate change, a report by the Climate Change and European Marine Ecosystem Research (CLAMER) project warned.

Scientists examined a mass of EU-funded research on the impacts of climate change on Europe’s marine environment and identified the gaps and priorities for future work.

“Change has been clearly visible and is much more rapid than we thought was possible,” Carlo Heip, chair of the CLAMER project and lead author of the report, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Over the past 25 years, sea water temperatures have increased as Arctic sea ice has melted. The combination of rising sea-levels and increased winds has contributed to the erosion of 15 percent of European coasts, the report said.

Warming has speeded up in the past 25 years at around 10 times faster than the average rate of increase in the 20th century, it added.

From 1986 to 2006, sea surface temperature rises for European waters were three to six times higher than the global average.

“Scenario simulations suggest that by the end of the 21st century, the temperature of the Baltic Sea may have increased by 2 to 4 degrees centigrade, the North Sea by 1.7 degrees, and the Bay of Biscay by 1.5 to 5 degrees,” the report said.

Melting ice sheets and glaciers add more uncertainty. Current estimates for 2100 suggest European sea levels could rise 60 cms and up to 1.9 meters at some British coasts.

Sea level rise threatens populations in all low-lying areas of Europe, but countries such as Britain, France and the Netherlands could be less vulnerable because they are rich enough to adopt coastal protection measures.

Changes in the marine food chain have also occurred as organisms have migrated to the Atlantic from the Pacific via seasonal ice-free passages through the Arctic.

While some species can thrive in other oceans, any major upheaval to the marine ecosystem could have devastating effects, the report said.

CLAMER also found that some bacteria strains were becoming more prevalent and could be a potential threat to human health. For example, cholera strains have increased in the North Sea over the past 50 years, perhaps due to temperature change.

Among its many recommendations, CLAMER urged more study of seal-level changes due to ice sheets breaking up or melting, coastal erosion, temperature changes, ocean acidification, marine ecosystems and circulation changes.

“The main message is we need to keep our fingers on the pulse,” said Heip.

The full report is available at: www.clamer.eu/

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Warming seas could smother seafood

Warming seas could smother seafood – environment – 08 September 2011 – New Scientist.

Seafood could be going off a lot of menus as the world warms. More than half of a group of fish crucial for the marine food web might die if, as predicted, global warming reduces the amount of oxygen dissolved in some critical areas of the ocean – including some of our richest fisheries.

The prediction is based on a unique set of records that goes back to 1951. California has regularly surveyed its marine plankton and baby fish to support the sardine fishery. “There is almost no other dataset going back so far that includes every kind of fish,” says Tony Koslow of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, who heads the survey. The survey records also include information on water temperature, salinity and the dissolved oxygen content.

Koslow’s team studied records of 86 fish species found consistently in the samples and discovered that the abundance of 27 of them correlated strongly with the amount of oxygen 200 to 400 metres down: a 20 per cent drop in oxygen meant a 63 per cent drop in the fish. There have been several episodes of low oxygen during the period in question, mainly in the 1950s and since 1984.

Global climate models predict that 20 to 40 per cent of the oxygen at these depths will disappear over the next century due to warming, says Koslow – mainly because these waters get oxygen by mixing with surface waters. Warmer, lighter surface waters are less likely to mix with the colder, denser waters beneath.

Of the 27 species most affected by low oxygen, says Koslow, 24 were “mesopelagic”: fish that spend the daytime in deep, dark waters below 200 metres to avoid predators such as squid that hunt by sight. There are 10 billion tonnes of mesopelagic fish globally – 10 times the annual global commercial catch – and they are a vital food for other fish and marine birds and mammals.

Out of the depths

In large segments of the Indian, eastern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans called oxygen minimum zones (OMZs), patterns of ocean currents already permit little downward mixing of surface water, so the dark depths where mesopelagics hide have barely enough oxygen for survival. Worldwide, OMZs are expanding both in area and vertically, pushing “hypoxic” water – water with too little oxygen for survival – to ever-shallower levels. Last year, Japanese researchers reported that this has nearly halved the depths inhabited by Pacific cod.

The California coast is an OMZ. When oxygen levels are even lower than usual, the hypoxic zone starts up to 90 metres closer to the surface. This means fish must stay in shallower, more brightly lit water, says Koslow, at greater risk from predators – which, he suspects, is what kills them. In the California data, predatory rockfish in fact boomed during periods of low oxygen.

“This is important work,” says William Gilly of Stanford University’s marine lab in Pacific Grove, California. He studies Humboldt squid, an OMZ predator whose recent movements seem consistent with Koslow’s idea.

“These findings are an example of the kinds of changes we will see more broadly throughout our oceans in coming decades, especially in OMZs,” says Frank Whitney of the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia, Canada. Unfortunately, he notes, water and nutrient movements within OMZs make them among our richest fishing grounds.

Journal reference: Marine Ecology Progress Series, DOI: 10.3354/meps09270

Overfishing eats away at genetic diversity of fish

Overfishing eats away at genetic diversity of fish – environment – 15 July 2011 – New Scientist.

Plenty more fish in the sea? Maybe not for much longer. Overfishing is damaging the genetic diversity of fish to a greater degree than expected, leaving at-risk species vulnerable.

It was thought that even badly overfished species would remain genetically diverse, since millions of individual fish remain even in the most depleted species.

To test this assumption, Malin Pinsky and Stephen Palumbi of Stanford University in California gathered published data on genetic diversity in 37 overfished species and compared it with diversity in 51 of their lightly fished relatives.

To their surprise, they found that the overfished species carried, on average, about 18 per cent fewer genetic variants than their lightly fished relatives. “Contrary to what we expected, it looks like the [genetic] effects of overfishing are quite widespread,” Pinsky says.

At first glance, a drop in genetic diversity of just 18 per cent may seem small, given that some overfished species are thought to have suffered severe population crashes. However, widespread overfishing is just a few decades old, and if it continues it may lead to a further erosion of genetic diversity, says Pinsky.

Meanwhile, Michael Alfaro of the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues have found another ominous sign for fish stocks.

Speedy evolution

They analysed the family tree of fish to see how quickly body size changes in each lineage, then noted which lineages are most heavily fished. The team found that species with unusually fast rates of evolution in body size are preferentially targeted by fishing.

Since changes in body size often lead to changes in other ecologically relevant traits, this means that fishing targets the most evolutionarily active groups of fish, Alfaro says.

“Humans are eating away the richest branches of the fish tree of life,” says Alfaro. “If you were going to come up with a plan to assault the fish tree of life, you would want to do it like this.”

The results add urgency to biologists’ call for more aggressive management of commercial fisheries. “These are not trends we would wish to see continue,” says Paul Bentzen, a fisheries geneticist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. “We need to be managing fisheries more effectively.”

That could involve measures such as shorter fishing seasons and an increase in the number of no-fishing zones. But the bottom line is that people need to catch fewer fish, Bentzen says.

Pinsky and Alfaro presented their findings at a meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution in Norman, Oklahoma, last month

Earth's oceans on course for mass extinction

Earth’s oceans on course for mass extinction – environment – 21 June 2011 – New Scientist.

Mass extinctions are seldom pretty, but this one would transform Earth’s oceans forever, especially coral reefs.

A new report by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) assesses how climate change, overexploitation, pollution, habitat loss and other stressors are affecting the ocean as a whole.

The conclusion? We’re on course for a mass extinction that would include coral reefs and the menagerie of species that rely on them, as well as multiple species of fish consumed by people, although it may not be as severe as the “big five” extinctions of Earth’s distant past.

“We’re seeing a combination of symptoms that have been associated with large, past extinctions,” says Alex Rogers, the head of IPSO.

Acidifying waters

Rogers says the biggest problem is the rapid pace of climate change, which is “virtually unprecedented”. The closest comparison is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum of 55 million years ago, when 2.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide was released every year for millennia and many deep-sea species were wiped out. Today we release over 25 gigatonnes every year.

Many harmful factors combine to cause additional damage. For instance, the oceans are acidifying as a result of CO2 dissolving in the water, and this makes corals more susceptible to “bleaching”.

Rogers recommends nothing less than slashing CO2 emissions, establishing Marine Protected Areas covering up to one-third of the ocean, and restoring marine ecosystems.

World's oceans move into 'extinction phase'

World’s oceans move into ‘extinction phase’ – Telegraph.

Maybe a dupe of something V posted….

A preliminary report from an international panel of marine experts said that the condition of the world’s seas was worsening more quickly than had been predicted.

The scientists, gathered for a workshop at Oxford University, warned that entire ecosystems, such as coral reefs, could be lost in a generation.

Already fish stocks are collapsing, leading to a risk of rising food prices and even starvation in some parts of the world.

The experts blamed the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for pushing up ocean temperatures, boosting algae so there is less oxygen and increasing acidity of the water.

The conditions are similar to every previous mass extinction event in the Earth’s history.

Dr Alex Rogers, scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) which convened the panel with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said the next generation would suffer if species are allowed to go extinct.

“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications became far worse than we had individually realised,” he said.

“This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.

“We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime and, worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”

The marine scientists called for a range of urgent measures to cut carbon emissions, reduce over-fishing, shut unsustainable fisheries, create protected areas in the seas and cut pollution.

Sea levels rising at fastest rate in 2,000 years and other sea level news

Sea levels rising at fastest rate in 2,000 years – Telegraph.

Sea levels rising at fastest rate in 2,000 years

Sea levels are rising faster than at any point in the past 2,000 years because of the impact of global warming, scientists have found.

Sea levels rising at fastest rate in 2,000 years

Since then the average rise in sea levels in North Carolina, where the study was based, it has been higher than 2mm per year Photo: ALAMY

Sea Salinity another source of calamity?

Aquarius to Study the Power of Sea Salt – NASA Science.

Aquarius to Study the Power of Sea Salt

June 7, 2011: A new observatory is about to leave Earth to map a powerful compound of global importance: Common everyday sea salt.

Aquarius (spacecraft, 200px)

An artist’s concept of Aquarius/ SAC-D in orbit. [more]

Researchers suspect that the salinity of Earth’s oceans has far-reaching effects on climate, much as the salt levels within our bodies influence our own delicate internal balance. An international team of scientists from NASA and the Space Agency of Argentina, or CONAE, will investigate this possibility with the aid of a satellite named “Aquarius/SAC-D,” scheduled to launch on June 9th.

“Based on decades of historical data gathered from ocean areas by ships and buoys, we know the salinity has changed over the last 40 years,” says Aquarius principal investigator Gary Lagerloef. “This tells us there’s something fundamental going on in the water cycle.”

Salinity is increasing in some ocean regions, like the subtropical Atlantic, which means more fresh water is being lost through evaporation at the sea surface. But no one knows why this is happening; nor can anyone pinpoint why other areas are experiencing more rainfall and lower salinity. To solve these mysteries, scientists need a comprehensive look at global salinity.

Within a few months, Aquarius will collect as many sea surface salinity measurements as the entire 125-year historical record from ships and buoys.

Aquarius (seashore, 550px)

A NASA video explains the role of ocean salinity in Earth’s water cycle.

“Salinity, along with temperature, governs the density of seawater,” says Lagerloef. “The saltier the water, the denser it is, and density drives the currents that determine how the ocean moves heat around the planet. For example, the Gulf Stream carries heat to higher latitudes and moderates the climate. When these currents are diverted by density variations, weather patterns such as rainfall and temperature change.”

Scientists have gathered an ensemble of measurements over the ocean–e.g., wind speed and direction, sea surface heights and temperatures, and rainfall. But these data do not provide a complete picture.

“We’ve been missing a key element – salinity,” says Lagerloef. “A better understanding of ocean salinity will give us a clearer picture of how the sea is tied to the water cycle and help us improve the accuracy of models predicting future climate.”

Aquarius (radiometer, 200px)

A pre-launch view of the Aquarius radiometer. [more]

Aquarius is one of the most sensitive microwave radiometers ever built, and the first NASA sensor to track ocean salinity from space.

“It can detect as little as 0.2 parts salt to 1,000 parts water — about the same as a dash of salt in a gallon of water. A human couldn’t taste such a low concentration of salt, yet Aquarius manages to detect it while orbiting 408 miles above the Earth.”

The Aquarius radiometer gets some help from other instruments onboard the satellite. One of them helps sort out the distortions of the choppy sea. CONAE’s Sandra Torrusio, principal investigator for the Argentine and other international instruments onboard, explains:

“One of our Argentine instruments is another microwave radiometer in a different frequency band that will measure sea surface winds, rainfall, sea ice, and any other ‘noise’ that could distort the Aquarius salinity measurement. We’ll subtract all of that out and retrieve the target signal.”

Torrusio is excited about the mission.

“I’ve met so many new people, not only from Argentina, but from the US and NASA! It’s been a great experience to work with them and exchange ideas. We may come from different places, but we all talk the same language. And it isn’t English – it’s science.”

Working together, these international “people of science” will tell us more about the ocean’s role in our planet’s balance – and in our own – no matter where we live.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.
(e.e. cummings)”

Plankton May Hold Up Well to Ocean Acidification

Plankton May Hold Up Well to Ocean Acidification | Wired Science | Wired.com.

By Scott Johnson, Ars Technica

England’s White Cliffs of Dover are certainly an impressive sight. The sheer cliffs, made of bright white chalk, rise as high as 350 feet above the shoreline.

Despite the fact that the chalk is over 65 million years old, it may have something to tell us about how the ocean will react to the continued use of fossil fuels.

Chalk is composed of tiny calcite (calcium carbonate) plates called coccoliths. These are sections of the intricate spherical housing secreted by a type of phytoplankton smaller than the width of a hair, known as coccolithophores. The coccoliths in ancient chalk deposits like Dover’s cliffs have maintained their microscopic size, resisting the natural tendency of calcite to partially dissolve over time and recrystallize into larger clumps. This left researchers at the University of Copenhagen pondering if there might be something special about the calcite secreted by coccolithophores.

If that’s the case, understanding the details could help us predict how these phytoplankton will respond to ocean acidification — global warming’s oft-overlooked (but equally ugly) twin. The rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn’t just change the climate; it also lowers the pH of ocean water, and that’s bad news for things made of calcite, which may dissolve as the pH drops.

To answer their question, the researchers had to develop a new method to monitor the dissolution of individual coccoliths, requiring a degree of precision far beyond existing techniques. They glued single coccoliths to the tip of a tiny cantilever that oscillated. Imagine a ruler held over the edge of a table and plucked — it will vibrate, but if you attached a marble or a golf ball to the end, it would waggle more slowly. In the experiment, as the coccolith dissolved away, its mass decreased and the frequency of cantilever oscillation (waggling speed) increased. This allowed the researchers to measure mass to within a remarkable one-trillionth of a gram.

The results showed that coccoliths are indeed resistant to dissolution. Inorganic calcite crystals begin dissolving around pH 8.2, but the coccoliths remained intact until about pH 7.8. That’s not a trivial difference when you consider that pH is measured in logarithmic units. For example, a pH of 8 is 10 times as basic as a pH of 7. The research team attributes this resistance to the presence of organic material (from the single-celled phytoplankton that lived inside) which protects the calcite from dissolution.

What does this information tell us? For starters, it explains the microscopic characteristics of chalk. But, more importantly, it helps us predict the effects of ocean acidification more accurately. Some marine plankton and invertebrates build shells from aragonite—a form of calcium carbonate which dissolves more easily than calcite — and these organisms will be the first to feel the effect of increasing ocean acidity. Calcite-secreting organisms which aren’t as resistant as coccolithophores will be next. Near pH 7.8, coccolithophores (and any other groups that stabilize calcite similarly) will be in trouble as well.

Projections vary with scenarios of future emissions, but most put the average ocean pH at 7.8 before the end of this century. Average pH has already decreased by about 0.1 units since preindustrial times to roughly 8.1 — a nearly 30 percent increase in acidity. With regional and seasonal variation, some areas will experience a pH of 7.8 or lower much sooner, most notably the Southern Ocean.

Consideration of this scenario is not just an academic exercise. Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food web, and coccolithophores are one of the most abundant groups. Most plankton groups will be impacted by ocean acidification, which could result in serious ecosystem changes. Like burning the grass in a cow pasture, knocking out phytoplankton ultimately means nobody eats.

On a timescale of millennia, another story becomes significant. Phytoplankton like coccolithophores represent a key piece of the carbon cycle. After taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they eventually die and sink to the ocean bottom, where many accumulate and are buried as carbonate sediment, locking up that carbon in long-term storage. Disrupting phytoplankton growth inhibits the planet’s natural regulation of greenhouse gases by decreasing its ability to lock up excess carbon in sediment.

Coccolithophores may have a couple tricks up their (microscopic) sleeves that will help them hold out a little longer than some other marine organisms, but chemistry can only be kept at bay for so long. Awareness of just where the danger lies allows for effective monitoring and an accurate appraisal of our proximity to it.

Image: A species of coccolithophore phytoplankton called Emiliania huxleyi. (University of Georgia)

Citation: “Tracking single coccolith dissolution with picogram resolution and implications for CO2 sequestration and ocean acidification.” T. Hassenkam, A. Johnsson, K. Bechgaard, and S. L. S. Stipp. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 108, No. 21, Pg. 8571-8576. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009447108