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Ancient Chinese tomb reveals previously unknown extinct species

June 21, 2018

Team including an ASU postdoc identifies remains as a new type of gibbon

An international team of researchers, including Alejandra Ortiz, a postdoctoral researcher with Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins, has discovered a new genus and species in an unusual place — a tomb.

The Junzi imperialis, an ape that lived in China as recently as 2,200 years ago, was discovered in what was the ancient capital of Chang’an (now Xi’an) in the high-status tomb of Lady Xia, which contained 12 pits with animal remains and other grave goods.

Buried during China’s late Warring States period (475–221 B.C.), Lady Xia was the grandmother of China’s famous first emperor Qin Shi Huang (259–210 B.C.), who not only created a unified imperial system that lasted until the early 1900s, but also commissioned ambitious projects such as the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall of China.

Chinese painting with gibbons
A Chinese painting of gibbons at play. Public domain image

Excavated in 2004, the tomb’s “K12” pit included the skeletons of leopard, lynx, black bear, crane and other birds, domestic mammals and a gibbon. Gibbons and siamangs are small-bodied apes from East and Southeast Asia and, together with the great apes — chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans — are humans' closest living relatives.

Today, all species of living apes are threatened with extinction due to human activity and habitat loss. Yet it has generally been believed that prior to the industrial age, ape diversity had not been depleted by human pressures. The well-preserved partial skull of Lady Xia’s gibbon challenges this view, according to a new study published this week in Science. 

The analysis of Lady Xia’s gibbon and its comparison with present-day gibbons and the extinct Bunopithecus gibbon point to the presence of a new genus and species of gibbon named Junzi imperialis. The Junzi gibbon lived until about 2,200 years ago in central China, more than 1,200 kilometers from the nearest living gibbon populations.

“Although it is earlier in age, Bunopithecus was also found in central China, so at first I thought that Bunopithecus and Lady Xia’s gibbon could have been closely related,” said Ortiz, a co-author of the study.

“But as soon as I looked at its skull and teeth, I knew there was something different about Lady Xia’s gibbon,” she said. Ortiz performed the morphological or shape-and-metric analysis of its dentition and has also previously examined the Bunopithecus skeleton.

Indeed, skull and teeth analyses revealed the form and comparative distinctiveness of Junzi from Bunopithecus and all living gibbon genera.

Map of gibbons in China
Map of distribution of gibbons in China. The dark gray is the modern distribution of gibbons, and the light gray represents the historical distribution across China. The star indicates the location of the tomb, and the circle is the collection area for the Bunopithecus. Image courtesy of Samuel Turvey

The study represents the first documented postglacial extinction of an ape and of any continental primate. Until relatively recently, the Holocene epoch, which essentially spans the last 12,000 years, was a period of climatic stability. Given the high population density and incidental extensive deforestation experienced for millennia in central China, it is very likely that Junzi became extinct as a result of human impacts and pressures on the environment. 

Junzi’s discovery and evidence from historical accounts suggest that past human-caused loss of apes and other primates may have been underestimated.

“This points to the need for more studies to better understand primate vulnerability in order to increase conservation efforts and help prevent future extinctions of our closest living relatives before it is too late,” Ortiz said. 

Junzi imperialis fossil
Cranium and mandible of Junzi imperialis: (A) lower cranium, (B) mandible, (C) upper teeth, (D) lower teeth, (E) individual tooth. Image courtesy Samuel Turvey.


Top photo: A modern-day gibbon hangs out in a tree. Image courtesy of Pixabay

Julie Russ

Assistant director , Institute of Human Origins


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New study suggests viral connection to Alzheimer’s disease

June 21, 2018

First-of-its-kind research by ASU, Banner, Mount Sinai and others suggests species of herpesvirus contribute to development of disorder

Of the major illnesses facing humanity, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) remains among the most pitiless and confounding. More than a century after its discovery, no effective prevention or treatment exists for this progressive deterioration of brain tissue, memory and identity. With more people living to older ages, there is a growing need to clarify Alzheimer’s disease risk factors and disease mechanisms and use this information to find new ways in which to treat and prevent this terrible disorder.

A first-of-its kind study implicates another culprit in the path to Alzheimer’s disease: the presence of viruses in the brain.

In research appearing in the advance online edition of the journal Neuron, scientists at the Arizona State University-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center (NDRC) and their colleagues at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai used large data sets from clinically and neuropathologically characterized brain donors and sophisticated “big data” analysis tools to make sense of both the genes that are inherited and those that are preferentially turned on or off in the brains of persons with Alzheimer’s disease. They provide multiple lines of evidence to suggest that certain species of herpesviruses contribute to the development of this disorder.

The new work brings science a step closer to clarifying the mechanisms by which infectious agents may play important roles in the disease. To achieve this, the team capitalized on DNA and RNA sequencing data from 622 brain donors with the clinical and neuropathological features of Alzheimer’s disease and 322 brain donors without the disease — data generated from the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Accelerating Medicines Partnership for Alzheimer’s Disease (AMP-AD).

The “whole exome” DNA sequencing was used to provide detailed information about each person’s inherited genes. RNA sequencing from several brain regions was used to provide detailed information about the genes that are expressed differently in donors with and without the disease.

Clinical assessments performed before the research participants died provided detailed information about their trajectory of cognitive decline, and neuropathological assessments performed after they died provided relevant neuropathological information, including the severity of amyloid plaques and tangles, the cardinal features of Alzheimer’s disease. Sophisticated computational tools were used to develop a kind of grand unified picture of the viral-AD nexus.

Big challenges, big data

Big data-driven analyses offer a particularly powerful approach for exploring diseases like Alzheimer’s, which involve many interdependent variables acting in concert in profoundly complex systems. In the current study, researchers explore viral presence in six key brain regions known to be highly vulnerable to the ravages of AD. (It is now accepted that damaging effects to these areas often precede clinical diagnosis of the disease by several decades.)

The study identifies high levels of human herpesvirus (HHV) 6A and 7 in brain samples showing signs of AD neuropathology, compared with the lower levels found in normal brains. Further, through the careful comparison of large data sets of viral RNA and DNA with networks of human genes associated with AD and signposts of neuropathology, the study offers the first hints of the viral mechanisms that could trigger or exacerbate the disease.

The findings, originally hinted at from samples provided by Translational Genomics (TGen) in Phoenix, were confirmed in the Mount Sinai Brain Bank, and then replicated in samples from the Mayo Clinic Brain Bank, Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, and the Banner-Sun Health Research Institute’s Brain and Body Donation Program.

Uninvited guests

According to Ben Readhead, lead author of the new study, the researchers’ general goal was to discover disease mechanisms, including those that could be targeted by repurposed or investigational drug therapies.

“We didn’t go looking for viruses, but viruses sort of screamed out at us,” Readhead said.

Although the study found a number of common viruses in normal aging brains, viral abundance of two key viruses — HHV 6A and 7 — was greater in brains stricken with Alzheimer’s.

“We were able to use a range of network biology approaches to tease apart how these viruses may be interacting with human genes we know are relevant to Alzheimer’s,” Readhead said.

Readhead is an assistant research professor in the NDRC, housed at ASU’s Biodesign Institute. Much of the research described in the new study was performed in the laboratory of Joel Dudley, associate professor of genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, associate research professor in the NDRC, and senior author of the paper in Neuron.

The nature and significance of viruses and other pathogens in the brain are currently hot topics in neuroscience, though the exploration is still in its early stages. One of the primary questions is whether such pathogens play an active, causative role in the disease or enter the brain simply as opportunistic passengers, taking advantage of the neural deterioration characteristic of AD.

“Previous studies of viruses and Alzheimer’s have always been very indirect and correlative. But we were able to perform a more sophisticated computational analysis using multiple levels of genomic information measured directly from affected brain tissue. This analysis allowed us to identify how the viruses are directly interacting with or coregulating known Alzheimer’s genes,” said Dudley. “I don’t think we can answer whether herpesviruses are a primary cause of Alzheimer’s disease. But what’s clear is that they’re perturbing and participating in networks that directly underlie Alzheimer’s pathophysiology.”

Network news

The new study uses a network biology approach to holistically incorporate molecular, clinical and neuropathological features of AD with viral activity in the brain. Using techniques in bioinformatics, the study integrates high-throughput data into probabilistic networks that are postulated to account for the associations between herpesviruses and the telltale effects of AD.

The networks described suggest that the hallmarks of AD may arise as collateral damage caused by the brain’s response to viral insult. According to the so-called pathogen hypothesis of AD, the brain reacts to infection by engulfing viruses with the protein amyloid beta (Aβ), sequestering the invaders and preventing them from binding with cell surfaces and inserting their viral genetic payload into healthy cells.

As Readhead explained, “A number of viruses looked interesting. We saw a key virus, HHV 6A, regulating the expression of quite a few AD-risk genes and genes known to regulate the processing of amyloid, a key ingredient in AD neuropathology.”  (Amyloid concentrations form characteristic plaques in the brain. These plaques, along with neurofibrillary tangles formed by another protein, known as tau, are the microscopic brain abnormalities used to diagnose Alzheimer’s.)

Both HHV 6A and 7 are common herpesviruses belonging to the genus Roseolovirus. Most people are exposed to them early in life. The likely route of entry for such viruses is through the nasopharyngeal lining. The higher abundance of these viruses in AD-affected brains may initiate an immune cascade leading to deterioration and cell death or act in other ways to promote AD.

Mounting evidence

The results from human brain tissue were further supplemented by mouse studies. Here, researchers examined the effect of depleting miR155, a small snippet of RNA (or micro RNA) that is an important regulator of the innate and adaptive immune systems. Results showed increased deposition of amyloid plaques in miR155-depleted mice, coupled with behavioral changes. As the authors note, HHV 6A is known to deplete miR155, lending further weight to a viral contribution to AD. 

The new research is the fruitful result of close working relationships among researchers from Arizona State University, Banner, Mount Sinai and other research organizations, as well as public-private partnerships in AMP-AD.

“This study illustrates the promise of leveraging human brain samples, emerging big data analysis methods, converging findings from experimental models, and intensely collaborative approaches in the scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and the discovery of new treatments,” said study co-author Eric Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and university professor of neuroscience at ASU. “We are excited about the chance to capitalize on this approach to help in the scientific understanding, treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

Enemy with a thousand faces

In the meantime, Alzheimer’s continues its devastating trajectory. Among the many challenges facing researchers is the fact that the earliest effects of the disease on vulnerable brain regions occur 20 or 30 years before memory loss, confusion, mood changes and other clinical symptoms appear. Without a cure or effective treatment, AD is expected to strike a new victim in the United States every 33 seconds by mid-century and costs are projected to exceed $1 trillion annually.

The research study does not suggest that Alzheimer’s disease is contagious. But if viruses or other infections are confirmed to have roles in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s, it could set the stage for researchers to find novel anti-viral or immune therapies to combat the disease, even before the onset of symptoms.

More information at the NIH/National Institute on Aging: https://bit.ly/2HRBzi6

Additional contributors to the study include: Center for NFL Neurological Care, Department of Neurology, New York; James J. Peters VA Medical Center, New York; Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, Phoenix;  Department of Psychiatry, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ;  Banner Alzheimer's Institute, Phoenix;  Neurogenomics Division, Translational Genomics Research Institute, Phoenix;  Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle.

Postmortem brain tissue was collected through the NIH-designated NeuroBioBank (NBB) System that contributes to support of the Mount Sinai VA/Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Brain Bank (AG005138).

The Dudley Laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has an institutional partnership with Banner-ASU Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center.

Postmortem brain tissue was collected through the NIH-designated NeuroBioBank (NBB) System that contributes to support of the Mount Sinai VA/Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Brain Bank (AG005138). Dr. Vahram Haroutunian from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine is Director of the NeuroBioBank.

Additional postmortem data collection was supported through funding by NIA grants P50 AG016574, R01 AG032990, U01 AG046139, R01 AG018023, U01 AG006576, U01 AG006786, R01 AG025711, R01 AG017216, R01 AG003949, R01 NS080820, Cure PSP Foundation, and support from Mayo Foundation, U24 NS072026, P30 AG19610, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research P30AG10161, R01AG15819, R01AG17917, R01AG30146, R01AG36836, U01AG32984, U01AG46152, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute.

Additional work performed in this study was supported by U01 AG046170, R56AG058469, and philanthropic financial support was provided by Katherine Gehl.

Joe Caspermeyer

Managing editor , Biodesign Institute


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June 20, 2018

Almost 40 years after autism was officially identified, an ASU researcher looks at how older adults are affected by the diagnosis

In 1980, “infantile autism” was recognized as its own condition by the medical community. Around the country, schools, parents and doctors began to identify children with what would later be called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the number of diagnoses skyrocketed.

Cut to nearly 40 years later, and those first children diagnosed with autism have grown up. They’re adults now, and Arizona State University College of Health Solutions Assistant Professor Blair Braden wants to know how autism is playing out in their lives. With 1 in 59 children diagnosed with ASD, it’s a disorder that affects many, yet little is known about its impact on aging in adulthood.

In partnership with the Barrow Neurological Institute and the Southwest Autism Research Center, Braden will spend the next four years studying the brain activity of adults with ASD to better understand the cognitive changes that occur across aging in adulthood and identify what behaviors in adults are the best predictors of age-related cognitive decline. Nearly all previous research on the subject has been limited to children, making this first-of-its-kind study significant for what it will reveal about aging with autism.

Blair Braden

Question: How does aging affect adults with autism spectrum disorder differently than adults without?

Answer: This is something we don’t know yet. While the autism condition has most likely existed for many, many years, it wasn’t until 1943 when it received its name and 1980 when it officially entered the psychiatric diagnostic manual. In fact, the first child to ever be labeled as “autistic” is now an 84-year-old man. So, only recently have there been enough middle-aged and elderly adults identified as having autism that we can begin to ask how the aging process may differ.

When we and others look at this age group of individuals with autism, they have reduced cognitive abilities, more cognitive complaints and higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to neurotypical adults the same age(Braden et al., 2017). However, no one has followed the same individuals with autism over time. Our research group recently began one of the first longitudinal aging studies on autism. We have followed some folks for two years and have funding through the National Institute for Mental Health to keep tracking them for four more years.

Q: What changes in cognitive function might an older adult with autism expect to experience? What interventions are available to support age-related changes for adults with autism?

A: The cognitive changes we are most concerned about in older adults with autism fall under the umbrella term, “executive function.” Executive function governs our ability to do things like plan, flexibly respond to new situations and manipulate information in our minds, which you can imagine is very important for our capacity to work and live independently. Even young adults with autism on average have reduced executive function abilities compared to their neurotypical peers.

Since executive functions also decline with aging for all of us, we are worried that older adults with autism may incur a “double hit” to this system that will greatly affect their independence. There currently are no robust interventions to support age-related changes for adults with autism. Our group plans to investigate adapting interventions tailored to individuals with mild cognitive impairment (often a precursor to dementia) to this population.

Q: What do you anticipate learning from your research?

A: We expect to learn more about the specific vulnerabilities and resiliencies older adults with autism have to aging, and the brain-imaging markers that predict how someone will be affected by aging. Once we know this, we can precisely tailor interventions that help adults with autism remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. We hope this increases quality of life for the individuals and their family, as well as reduces health care costs.

Q: What inspired you to pursue this work?

A: Growing up, my family ran a nursing home and my older sister was a special-education teacher. I spent much of my time in her classroom and loved interacting with kids on the spectrum. On evenings and weekends, I was often at the nursing home mingling with the elderly under my grandmother’s care. Both groups absolutely captivated my fascination with how all of us have such different brains that are constantly changing as we age. Somehow I was lucky enough to combine my love for both of these groups of people by being one of the first to help adults with autism understand how aging will affect their brain and cognitive abilities.

Top photo courtesy of wikimedia.org.

Katherine Reedy

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Fun fireworks facts for July Fourth

June 19, 2018

A variety of ASU experts share wisdom on the sky shows that makes us 'ooh' and 'aah'

American flag bunting, barbecues, Bomb Pops and John Philip Sousa: We all know the trappings of a great July Fourth celebration. But no matter your spread, playlist or decor, Independence Day just isn't complete without fireworks.

We all know the basics:

  • Fireworks were invented in China.
  • The first Fourth of July in 1777 was celebrated with fireworks.
  • Don't start packing up the lawn chairs until after the finale.

But there's a lot more going on with our fascination with fireworks than that.

ASU Now asked some Arizona State University faculty a few burning questions about fireworks so you'll have some expert-level trivia to share with friends and family while you watch the sky this Fourth of July.

Question: Why are fireworks better in person than on television? 

Answer: Sociologists would consider people who gather to watch fireworks as engaged in collective behavior. A common form of collective behavior is the crowd. Sociologist Herbert Blumer distinguished between different types of crowds based on their purpose and dynamics. A collection of people purposefully attending a fireworks show with others would be considered an expressive crowd.

In an expressive crowd, the dynamics are such that people in the audience want to be a member of the crowd, and they want to participate in expressive behaviors such as clapping, shouting and cheering. This provides a sense of belonging and a shared sense of excitement with others who are there for the same experience. The purpose of the gathering is important: On the Fourth of July, people want to share with others the celebration of independence, and for some, the sense of patriotism they feel when watching a display of fireworks with others. 

 — Marcella Gemelli, senior lecturer and director of online graduate programs in family and human development and sociology in the Sanford School

Q: Why does my dog get scared of fireworks?

A: Most animals (including people!) have an innate fear of loud, sudden noises. From a dog’s point of view, the unexpected banging of fireworks is no different from any other unexpected loud noise — like gunfire or explosions. The best advice is to keep dogs indoors and as far away from the racket as possible.

— Clive Wynne, professor (and canine expert) in the Department of Psychology

Q: Why do we like watching fireworks in the first place?

A: There was a famous psychology experiment done in 1962 by Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer that has to do with emotion. In this study, researchers told people to wait in a waiting room, but before they did, they gave them an adrenaline shot. Then they had them wait for about 20 minutes. In the waiting room, there was someone else hanging out who was a part of the study, and they either acted super bummed out or really happy.

Afterward, researchers asked the unaware participant how they were feeling. The people who sat in the room with the bummed-out person reported being bummed out while the people who sat in the room with the happy person reported having a great time. It’s called the two-factor theory of emotion, and it’s still a pretty popular idea, that when we experience rushes of adrenaline with things like fireworks and haunted houses — things that produce loud explosions or bright lights — in a group setting, we tend to have similar reactions, whether that’s positive or negative.

For most of us, fireworks displays are a fun time where we get together and have fun with family and friends. So we’re probably just experiencing an adrenaline spike in our anticipation of the explosions, then reacting similarly with "oohs' and "aahs." 

— Michael McBeath, professor in the Department of Psychology 

Top photo by Pixabay

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The force is strong within us: New study explores cell mechanics at work

June 18, 2018

State-of-the-art technology and multiple tools help ASU researchers investigate National Cancer Institute question

It’s remarkable choreography: In each of our bodies, more than 37 trillion cells tightly coordinate with other cells to organize into the numerous tissues and organs that make us tick.

The body's cells are subjected to all sorts of environments and forces over a lifespan, calling for methods to quantify mechanical properties of cells and tissues. 

“A few years ago, the (National Cancer Institute) initiated this challenge within the framework of the Physical Sciences in Oncology (PSOC) Network, and several labs in the U.S. and Europe were invited to participate,” said Arizona State University researcher Robert Ros (pictured above), director of Arizona State University’s Center for Biological Physics and a faculty member in the Department of Physics and the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Single Molecule Biophysics.

Ros is an expert within an emerging science devoted toward a better understanding of the routine mechanical and physical forces cells may be subjected to in the body.

These forces include cells rafting through river-rapid-like currents of circulating blood or mosh-pit clumps of crowded neighbor cells within tissues and organs that all serve to bend, push, compress, shear or deform them.

By applying a total of six different technologies, ASU scientists could bend, push, twist and stretch cells in ways similar to what they may encounter within the body.

And so, an international team made up of researchers from eight different labs got to work, including ASU (Ros and graduate students Jack Staunton and Bryant Doss), Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, Tufts University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the National Cancer Institute, the University of Paris-Diderot, and the Technical University of Dresden and Saarland University, both in Germany.

Together, they rolled up their sleeves to better understand the physical forces and how best to optimize available technology. They wanted to compare different common techniques and understand the differences in the results of those techniques.  

The force within us

In the study, the team focused on measuring the stiffness, bending, twisting and viscosity of individual cells — focused on a breast-cancer cell line — using all of the most state-of-the art technology at their disposal. ­

How both healthy and cancerous cells respond to this environment — and whether there are key differences that can be identified for future diagnostic applications — was of keen interest to both the NCI and the physicists taking on the NCI’s challenge.  

“All labs received from NCI the same cells (known as MCF-7 breast-cancer cells), and we agreed on similar conditions for the measurements,” said Ros.

But before making their measurements, they first had to ensure that all the subtle conditions of growing cells in the lab were the same, including temperature, acidity of the solution or how long they had been growing.

“We obtained the measurements from a total of six techniques in eight different laboratories using the same breast cells from the same lot, cultured in the same medium from the same lot, all directly provided by the same tissue-culture cell bank,” said Ros. 

The research team employed different technologies to apply mechanical forces to the cells across a number of scales, from inside a cell to whole cells to a single cell layer. Also important to the team was how fast they could make the measurements, which varied from processing a few cells to more than 2,000 every hour.

More to the surface

Three of these groups, including Ros’, focused on an instrument to make cell mechanical measurements that often represents the eyes of nanotechnology, called atomic force microscopy (AFM).

AFMs are a commercially available tool widely used in nanotechnology, and fairly easy to use.

AFMs are so sensitive, they can see down to the level of individual atoms, and for the study, the mechanical forces within the cell. An AFM probe, which is like a record player arm and a type of cone-shaped needle, can apply a force on the surface of a single cell and measure the deformation.

Ros’ focused on Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). AFMs are so sensitive, they can see down to the level of individual atoms. 

The probes can be interchanged to measure the cellular forces at different scales.

“Overall, our results highlighted how mechanical properties of cells can vary by orders of magnitude, depending on the length scale at which cell viscoelasticity is probed, from tens of nanometers (e.g., the diameter of an AFM tip) to several micrometers (the size of a whole cell),” said Ros.  

“Our measurement with a nanoscale AFM probe showed that the mechanical properties of cells are heterogeneous and vary considerably at a single cell and from cell to cell,” said Ros. “Together, these results show that the mechanical properties of cells measured by AFM can differ more than tenfold, depending on the measurement parameters and the probed regions of the cells, as well as the dimension of the indenter.”

Going with the flow

By applying a total of six different technologies, they could bend, push, twist and stretch cells in ways similar to what they may encounter within the body.

In addition to ASU’s AFM technology, this also included an alphabet soup of technology: magnetic twisting cytometry (MTC), particle-tracking microrheology (PTM), parallel-plate rheometry (PPR), cell monolayer rheology (CMR) and optical stretching (OS).  

They were particularly encouraged when they saw similar results for each of the different techniques.

In addition, their latest results helped confirm data from previous studies, crossing an important scientific verification step — that the measurements could be duplicated.

Opening new avenues

Moving forward, of interest to Ros’ group is measuring these cellular mechanical forces within 3D cell-culture environments that can better mimic cells within the body.

“With this study, we’ve laid the groundwork that our results are more likely to be due to the differential mechanical responses of cells to the different force profiles produced by these different methods, rather than just random errors,” said Ros.

They will continue to explore different types of cells in different environments to see if there is a mechanical force that can be a new type of cell “signature” that may lead to a brand new type of diagnostic tool.

Top photo: ASU researcher Robert Ros is director of ASU’s Center for Biological Physics and a faculty in the Department of Physics and the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Single Molecule Biophysics. Ros is an expert within an emerging science devoted toward a better understanding of the routine mechanical and physical forces cells may be subjected to in the body. Photo by Biodesign Institute

Joe Caspermeyer

Managing editor , Biodesign Institute


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Juneteenth: America’s second Independence Day

June 18, 2018

'Juneteenth emerged in part to reclaim the central importance of black history — to put African-Americans back into the story of American history,' says ASU professor

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” was born out of what was once referred to as the “peculiar institution” A euphemism for slavery used by white southerners in the 19th century.of the United States.

It references the day 153 years ago this year when a quarter of a million people — still held captive in the years after the Emancipation ProclamationIssued on Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared free all people living in slavery in Confederate States that were still in rebellion. — walked away from the fields in which they were forced to toil; out of the houses in which they served under duress; and onto the roads they constructed to begin a new but uncertain future as free men, women and children.

In colloquial expression it has been called America’s “second Independence Day” after the Continental Congress approved the final textAmerica’s independence was formally declared two days earlier on July 2, 1776. of the Declaration of Independence from British rule on July 4, 1776. But for many, particularly those whose ancestry and lineage have been all but scrubbed from the annals of American history due to 250 years of that peculiar institution, Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, has come to represent a true day of independence from slaveholding rule.

Growing in observances and recognition, Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or observance in 45 statesNorth Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Montana and Hawaii do not recognize Juneteenth, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.. But it has been a slow journey to awareness — not unlike the protracted process of emancipation, said author and Professor Calvin SchermerhornA historian of slavery, capitalism and African-American literature, Calvin Schermerhorn is the author of several books on related topics including the forthcoming “Unrequited Toil: A History of United States Slavery,” due for publication in 2018. of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

“Juneteenth celebrations were as much about the unfinished work of freedom as about the accomplished fact of slavery’s end,” Schermerhorn said. “Freedom was already and not yet complete since economic and civil rights were slow to follow. Even the soldiers that proclaimed black Texans free of slavery encouraged them to keep their shoulders to the plow, stay in their places and to accept peace over justice.”

Schermerhorn recently shared more about the history and significance of Juneteenth in this Q&A with ASU Now:

Question: What is Juneteenth, and what is the tradition behind the observance of the day?

Answer: Juneteenth began in 1865 in Texas when some 250,000 formerly enslaved people were officially freed — two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which read: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” The order went on to assert “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” Juneteenth, argues one historianRobert C. Conner in his 2013 book “General Gordon Granger: The Savior of Chickamauga and the Man Behind Juneteenth.”, “was a new word signifying a new world.”

African-Americans in Texas turned the day into a celebration of freedom and an occasion to push for equal rights and opportunities. At first, it was specific to Texas but moved with migrating black Texans all over the United States. Towns like Covert, Michigan, and Tucson, Arizona, were holding Juneteenth celebrations by the early 20th century. Since African-Americans migrating out of Texas tended to go west, the holiday migrated west with them, though by the late 20th century it was popular all over the U.S.

Calvin Schermerhorn

Q: Why was the Emancipation Proclamation not enforced in Texas?

A: The Emancipation Proclamation was a war measure authorizing the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces to liberate enslaved people in states and parts of states in active rebellion against the U.S. on Jan. 1, 1863. It signaled that the Union war effort was now a war against slavery, but it was not enforceable in places outside Union control. Only when Texas as a state of the Confederacy fell to Union forces did emancipation arrive in law, despite the fact that many black Texans had already freed themselves as a practical matter. Gen. Granger arrived in June 1865 to reassert federal — not Confederate — supremacy and issued the emancipation order. Many, if not most white Texans did not accept the freedom verdict of the Civil War, and Texas did not ratify the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery until 1870, some five years after Congress passed it. Reconstruction-era Texas also saw some of the worst racist violence and murders of African-American people by white militants.

Q: What were some of the immediate challenges for the belatedly freed men and women of Texas after they received the news of their emancipation?

A: Freedom came with no back wages, no land transfer and no other compensation to those who were formerly enslaved. They received nothing but freedom and had to return to work under many circumstances for former owners who still owned land and other means of production. Many formerly enslaved people emerged in freedom on a war-torn landscape of sickness and scarcity. Some who had toiled all their lives were ill and unable to toil on. Others were orphans, injured or dislocated. The Civil War devastated large swaths of the American South, and economic recovery was haltingly slow.

In Texas as in many other areas, former enslavers took a dim view of people of African descent, offering labor contracts that looked a lot like slavery. Those gave way to sharecropping arrangements that put the croppers or tenants in perpetual debt. There were urban black populations who became middle class, voted and held public office. But despite the heroic struggles of civil rights leaders, African-American political participation and power was fleeting. The height of black political participation was in the years between when Congress remilitarized the South in 1867 and the panic of 1873, which sapped the political will of federal authorities to combat a militant white supremacist insurgency that took the form of the Ku Klux Klan and other Democratic Party political organizations.

Q: When and how was the first Juneteenth celebrated?

A: It was celebrated first in Austin in 1867, and by 1872 it was a celebration that drew crowds of thousands in parts of Texas. In subsequent years, some localities let prisoners out of jails for the day to join the celebration. In Galveston and elsewhere, women took the lead in celebrating Juneteenth and making it the pretext for political discussions. In 1919, when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) opened a branch in Galveston, women activists used Juneteenth as a date to meet at churches and urge more resources for education for African-American children. By then Juneteenth was so important that even white employers gave black workers the day off.

It was celebrated with barbecues, parades, floats and speeches, many of which were organized by the Women’s Nineteenth of June Committee in Galveston. It was therefore a day of protest and of celebration as an occasion to mark freedom that was only partly accomplished.

As Texas historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner argues, “No other public event instilled African-Americans with such awareness and historic pride, and perhaps no other event so publicly managed to voice the desire for sexual equality that black women had been quietly demonstrating in their churches, schools and clubs.”

Q:  It feels like we are at a point in time culturally where Americans are taking a deeper look at history and some of the narratives that have been left out of history books. Where does Juneteenth fall in with those “lost” narratives?  

A: Juneteenth as an African-American celebration of emancipation rose in the late 20th century as a way of reviving earlier Freedom Day celebrations and, more generally, as a way of raising awareness of African-Americans’ struggles against slavery and the racist violence of Jim Crow. It became the pretext for the Poor People’s March on Washington, D.C., in 1968. Until the 1960s — and in many history books much later — black Americans were marginalized. Historians routinely ignored or downplayed slavery, Jim Crow violence and the racist legacies of both. Instead, a grand patriotic narrative held sway and American history was a triumphal story of white generals, inventors and leaders. We see a version of this process in debates and conflicts over Confederate monuments. Monuments to Confederate leaders and generals were put up as assertions of white supremacy cloaked in a language of local struggles against a distant tyrannical government — the government of Abraham LincolnHistorians, including Schermerhorn, say had the Confederacy won the war, millions of African Americans would have remained enslaved.. That and other such stories distorted or ignored troubled parts of American history.

The same is true of Native Americans, women and many immigrant groups. Juneteenth emerged in part to reclaim the central importance of black history — to put African-Americans back into the story of American history. It also revived a black holiday of remembrance. In the post-Civil War nation, Freedom Day celebrations varied from state to state among African-descended Americans who had been enslaved or were members of formerly enslaved families. African-Americans in parts of Virginia, for instance, celebrated Surrender Day on April 9, the day when the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee surrendered. Whenever it was celebrated, the day usually coincided with an event signaling black freedom. But such celebrations fell off in the early 20th century, and they were revived generations later. Juneteenth became an official holiday in Texas in 1980, and proclamations in other states and locales have broadened it to a holiday commemorating emancipation and promoting respect and dignity of all peoples in freedom struggles.

Top Photo: "Emancipation" by Thomas Nast. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Emancipation Proclamation, author Abraham Lincoln. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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'Slow earthquakes' on San Andreas Fault increase risk of large quakes, say ASU geophysicists

June 18, 2018

Detailed study of well-known California fault finds new kind of movement not accounted for in earthquake forecasting

Geologists have long thought that the central section of California's famed San Andreas Fault — from San Juan Bautista southward to Parkfield, a distance of about 90 miles — has a steady creeping movement that provides a safe release of energy.

Creep on the central San Andreas during the past several decades, so the thinking goes, has reduced the chance of a big quake that ruptures the entire fault from north to south.

New research by two Arizona State University geophysicists, however, shows that the earth movements along this central section have not been smooth and steady, as previously thought.

Instead, the activity has been a sequence of small stick-and-slip movements — sometimes called "slow earthquakes" — that release energy over a period of months. Although these slow earthquakes pass unnoticed by people, the researchers say they can trigger large destructive quakes in their surroundings. One such quake was the magnitude 6 event that shook Parkfield in 2004.

"What looked like steady, continuous creep was actually made of episodes of acceleration and deceleration along the fault," said Mostafa Khoshmanesh, a graduate research assistant in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). He is the lead author of a Nature Geoscience paper reporting on the research.

"We found that movement on the fault began every one to two years and lasted for several months before stopping," said Manoochehr Shirzaei, assistant professor in SESE and co-author of the paper.

"These episodic slow earthquakes lead to increased stress on the locked segments of the fault to the north and south of the central section," Shirzaei said. He points out that these flanking sections experienced two magnitude 7.9 earthquakes, in 1857 (Fort Tejon) and 1906 (San Francisco).

The scientists also suggest a mechanism that might cause the stop-and-go movements.

"Fault rocks contain a fluid phase that's trapped in gaps between particles, called pore spaces," Khoshmanesh said. "Periodic compacting of fault materials causes a brief rise in fluid pressure, which unclamps the fault and eases the movement."

Looking underground from Earth orbit

The two scientists used synthetic aperture radar data from orbit for the years 2003 to 2010. This data let them map month-to-month changes in the ground along the central part of the San Andreas. They combined the detailed ground-movement observations with seismic records into a mathematical model. The model let them explore the driving mechanism of slow earthquakes and their link to big nearby quakes.

"We found that this part of the fault has an average movement of about three centimeters a year, a little more than an inch," Khoshmanesh said. "But at times the movement stops entirely, and at other times it has moved as much as 10 centimeters a year, or about four inches."

The picture of the central San Andreas Fault emerging from their work suggests that its stick-and-slip motion resembles on a small timescale how the other parts of the San Andreas Fault move. 

They note that the new observation is significant because it uncovers a new type of fault motion and earthquake-triggering mechanism, which is not accounted for in current models of earthquake hazards used for California.

As Shirzaei explained, "Based on our observations, we believe that seismic hazard in California is something that varies over time and is probably higher than what people have thought up to now." He added that accurate estimates of this varying hazard are essential to include in operational earthquake-forecasting systems. 

As Khoshmanesh said, "Based on current time-independent models, there's a 75 percent chance for an earthquake of magnitude 7 or larger in both northern and southern California within next 30 years."

Top photo: The southern San Andreas Fault slices across the Carrizo Plain in California. Both the northern and southern sections of the San Andreas have seen large destructive earthquakes, while the central section between north and south has remained largely quiet. New work by ASU geophysicists suggests the central section moves in a new way that makes big quakes more likely. Photo by U.S. Geological Survey

Robert Burnham

Science writer , School of Earth and Space Exploration


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Summer is no vacation for these faculty

June 13, 2018

ASU, Mayo Clinic researchers will spend summer tackling major health issues

School may be out for the semester, but for select faculty from Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and College of Health Solutions, summer is no time for a break.

Mayo Clinic and ASU Alliance for Health Care has selected 11 distinguished faculty to be part of the Faculty Summer Residency Program.

Now in its second year, the six-week residency program is designed to support long-term collaborations between research teams at Mayo Clinic and ASU faculty in areas that will impact clinical outcomes and enhance patient experiences. Participating faculty will work on a team at a Mayo Clinic site in either Rochester, Minnesota, or locally in Phoenix or Scottsdale.

"Our second cohort of Alliance Fellows will have the unique opportunity to work side-by-side with researchers at Mayo Clinic to deeply understand key issues facing patients," said Grace O'Sullivan, assistant vice president of corporate engagement and strategic partnerships at ASU. "These collaborations will support the development of noteworthy, interdisciplinary health solutions and also continue to strengthen the Mayo Clinic and ASU relationship."

Research teams will work in laboratory and clinical settings on projects that address an array of health care issues, including diabetes management, cancer detection and care, liver disease, heart failure, Parkinson’s disease and more.

The interdisciplinary nature of the collaborations encourages the development of innovative research, strategies, programs and tools that will support improved health outcomes for patients and contribute to scientific knowledge and understanding.

The participating faculty are:

Ayan Banerjee
School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Mayo Clinic Investigator: Yogish Kudva, MBBS
Location: Rochester, Minnesota
Project: Develop a Type 1 diabetes simulator to test closed loop control design

Chitta Baral 
School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Mayo Clinic Investigator: Rajeev Chaudhry, MBBS, MPH
Location: Rochester, Minnesota
Projects: Develop a survivorship care plan to aid cancer patients and other stakeholders; and, mine Twitter for actionable knowledge related to the opioid crisis

Valentin Dinu
Department of Biomedical Informatics, College of Health Solutions

Mayo Clinic Investigator: Jean-Pierre Kocher, PhD
Location: Rochester, Minnesota and Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona
Project: Develop a new analytical method to detect biological pathways involved in cancer

Bradley Doebbeling
School for the Science of Health Care Delivery, College of Health Solutions

Mayo Clinic Investigator: Steven Peters, MD
Location: Rochester, Minnesota
Project: Capture, analyze and archive clinical workflow data to support the system upgrade of Mayo Clinic’s electronic health records 

Erica Forzani
School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Mayo Clinic Investigator: Brendan Lanpher, MD
Location: Rochester, Minnesota
Project: Validate the clinical use of an at-home device that monitors ammonia levels in children with urea cycle disorders and adults with advanced liver disease

Esma Gel
School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Mayo Clinic Investigators: Kalyan Pasupathy, PhD and Mustafa Sir, PhD
Location: Rochester, Minnesota
Project: Develop artificial intelligence tools that optimize patient access and outcomes

Matthew Green
School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Mayo Clinic Investigator: Vijay Singh, MBBS
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
Project: Explore the clinical intricacies of polymeric drug delivery and diagnostic tools

Stephen Massia
School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Mayo Clinic Investigators: Jeffrey Cornella, MD and Longwen Chen, MD, PhD
Location: Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona
Project: Assess the regenerative capacity of a vaginal wall tissue construct prototype from rabbit explants

Yulia Peet
School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Mayo Clinic Investigator: Octavio Pajaro, MD, PhD
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Project: Assess the functionality and clinical outcomes of an artificial blood pump as a treatment for end-stage heart failure of cardiac patients

Vincent Pizziconi
School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Mayo Clinic Investigator: David Lott, MD
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Project: Work toward the development of a bioengineered artificial larynx 

Michael Sierks
School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Mayo Clinic Investigator: Charles Adler, MD, PhD
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
Project: Work toward the development of blood-based biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease

Top photo courtesty of Pixabay.com

Katherine Reedy

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Bitcoin goes to Wall Street: Cryptocurrency’s newest phase

June 12, 2018

ASU director says blockchain technology is more evolutionary than revolutionary

The Intercontinental Exchange, which owns the New York Stock Exchange, has been developing an online trading platform that will allow large investors to buy and hold bitcoin. The plan, along with commodity exchanges now offering bitcoin futures, signals a shift from the financial industry’s pervasive mistrust of cryptocurrencies to a cautious entry into mainstream adoption.

Dragan Boscovic, an Arizona State University computer science research professor and director of the Blockchain Research Lab, gave ASU Now some insight into bitcoin’s latest step toward legitimacy.

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Dragan Boscovic

Question: After years of skepticism about cryptocurrencies, what is motivating the New York Stock Exchange to develop its own trading platform?

Answer: Cryptocurrencies, while relatively new, are about a decade old now — within the normal cycle for any new technology to gain some traction. What we have seen over the past few years is that original cryptocurrencies like bitcoin did produce some additional platforms and networks that do not necessarily have the same objective as currencies tied to a country or consortium of countries.

The industry now sees an opportunity to offer a new asset for trade, broadening choices for investors.

Q: What will bitcoin look like on the NYSE?

A: Traders have been looking into cryptocurrencies for some time now. From the investment perspective, cryptocurrency is considered an asset and as such, it is traded as a commodity. Just like we trade precious metals like gold or silver or platinum, we can look at cryptocurrencies in the same way. In other words, the NYSE now looks at cryptocurrency as an investment option in the same way it treats gold as a commodity.

Why now? I think it’s because people are now more familiar with bitcoin.

Video by Jamie Ell/ASU Now

Q: What does this mean for the consumer?

A: Consumers now will have another choice. In addition to investing in assets like gold or land, now they can invest in an intangible asset that has an accompanying proof of ownership. The vulnerability of a digital currency is based on demand, and it is not open to influence by additional supply. A government can bootstrap an economy by introducing a new supply of traditional currency to influence borrowing. That can’t happen with cryptocurrency.

Q: How would these transactions work?

A: In the same way you buy any commodity on the stock exchange, you will be able to buy digital currencies like bitcoin, Ethereum or Dash.

Q: Does bitcoin’s acceptance open the door to other cryptocurrencies?

A: Certainly. The trading or acceptance of bitcoin will open the door to other currencies. It’s a very positive development in the sense that it injects confidence into the marketplace. Institutional investors are recognizing this new asset as a valued investment opportunity; this will encourage individual investors. It will also encourage consumers and small shops to start trading in cryptocurrency.

Q: Why have institutions been so resistant to cryptocurrencies in the past?

A: I wouldn’t call it resistance but rather inertia and maybe time to understand how it works and what does it mean to any business or operation. I think self-preservation is natural behavior for both humans and institutional organizations and bodies.

It takes courage and curiosity to understand how this new thing would impact their business. It’s essentially doing business in a new way. When institutions saw the long-term value in doing business this way, they became much more embracing and started to adopt technology for optimizing their internal processes and making them more efficient to audit.

The acceptance of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain platforms on which they exist is evolutionary more than revolutionary.

Q: Does the NYSE give this some legitimacy for consumer confidence?

A: It’s an encouraging development. Consumers do develop confidence when they see a large institution such as the stock exchange backing and selling cryptocurrencies.

Q: Will cryptocurrency ever be commonplace?

A: I believe cryptocurrency will be one asset that will feed and provide fuel for a new economy. We will still continue to trade in gold, silver and platinum. It’s simply another trading asset.

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The future of rain: Predicting the extremes

June 12, 2018

ASU researcher models present rainfall data to improve future forecasts of how extreme weather will affect urban living

The weather-related effects of climate change will affect the next phase of urban living. We just need to know how and when.

In 2017, calamitous weather seemed ever present. Three hurricanes brought record rain, intense flooding and widespread damage to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. California floods led to the Oroville Dam crisis, where the main and emergency spillways eroded and resulted in extensive evacuations. Heavy rains led to a deadly flash flood that tore through a canyon near Payson, Arizona, killing 10.

Extreme weather, including heavy rainfall, drought and excessive heat, now threatens urban centers on an unprecedented scale. That’s why Giuseppe Mascaro, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Arizona State University, sought to characterize daily rainfall in the Phoenix metropolitan area and throughout central Arizona using statistical models. His results are published in the Journal of Hydrology.

“Why do we want to characterize extremes?” asked Mascaro, a faculty member in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment — one of the six schools in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “The recent occurrence of natural disasters triggered by heavy rainfall and the perception that this has been happening more frequently than usual require conducting this type of quantitative analysis to understand the current situation, compare it with the past and try to model the future.”

Statistical models of extreme rainfall are crucial to support water, engineering and climate studies. Mascaro’s models will inform efforts in flood prediction, water management and urban infrastructure design. Additionally, Mascaro’s models will evaluate the ability of current climate models to reliably forecast heavy rainfall scenarios.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Methodology reduces uncertainty

Extremes are rare by definition. A 100-year storm theoretically happens once every 100 years. This makes observing extreme weather events challenging, especially in the Southwestern United States where records of rainfall observations can be sparser and shorter as compared with the Eastern part of the country.

For instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created Atlas 14, a precipitation atlas that characterizes the frequency and intensity of rainfall in the Southwestern U.S. In Arizona, the atlas is based on data from a network of just 270 rain gauges across the entire state.

Civil engineers rely on statistical models to design infrastructure and stormwater systems for urban centers, assuming that the climate variability observed in the past will remain the same in the future. However, theoretical arguments suggest that a warmer climate can lead to increased frequency and magnitude of extreme weather-related events, implying that the existing infrastructure may not be able to mitigate the effects of heavy rainfall and flooding.

“The drawback of sparse and shorter records for statistical analyses is that the probability distributions are not robust enough,” said Mascaro, who is also a research engineer in ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and an assistant professor in the Urban Climate Research Center. “There is uncertainty. I want to reduce uncertainty in the estimation of extremes so we can plan for the future better.”

To characterize daily rainfall extremes in the Phoenix metropolitan area and central Arizona, Mascaro utilized an untapped data set from the Flood Control District of Maricopa County. The network includes records from 310 rain gauges, of which 240 have more than 15 years of data.

Mascaro analyzed this “treasure” of data using an alternative statistical approach called peak-over-threshold analysis, which expands the amount of data used to characterize extreme events.

“People in my field say, ‘OK, this method is not new,’” Mascaro said. “But then I applied recent methodological advancements that have been developed using global long-term rainfall records to help correct errors in the frequency analysis of shorter datasets. This improves the robustness while limiting the effect of small sample sizes.”

Empirical results useful in forecasting the future

Mascaro conducted analyses of heavy rainfall in the Phoenix metropolitan area and central Arizona, annually and seasonally. For the seasonal analysis, Mascaro accounted for Arizona’s summer monsoon marked July through September and the winter season marked November to March. He estimated the parameters of a statistical distribution, called the Generalized Pareto distribution, to reproduce the frequency of daily extreme rainfall.

Through this analysis, Mascaro found that the statistical behavior of extreme rainfall in summer differs from that in winter. In summer, storms are very localized and short, while they are generally longer and widespread in winter due to cold fronts from the Pacific Ocean.

Mascaro also found the intensity of wintertime daily rainfall extremes increases with elevation. However, there are no organized patterns of rainfall extremes based on latitude, longitude or elevation for summertime extremes. This type of information helps refine statistical models that estimate rainfall frequency across Phoenix and Central Arizona.

The results of Mascaro’s work on daily rainfall extremes inform the design of civil infrastructure and provide tools to evaluate the ability of climate models to predict extreme events. These methodologies are broadly applicable to other regions, including urban areas where rainfall records are becoming increasingly available due to growing networks of rain gauges.

Mascaro’s rainfall prediction models will be a vital component to promote urban resilience and water sustainability as urban centers face unprecedented weather-related challenges with a warming climate.

In addition to informing the climate sciences, Mascaro’s results will have far-reaching impacts for research networks currently active at ASU, such as the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network and the Decision Center for a Desert City.

UREx SRN promotes the transition from contemporary urban areas to cities of the future. These cities will have flexible, adaptable, socially equitable and ecologically based infrastructure that remains resilient even through an increased occurrence of extreme weather events. The researchers of UREx SRN analyze extremes in urban areas to figure out how to update design standards for the infrastructure of the future. Mascaro’s research can help analyze the uncertainty of current statistical models used to design and operate infrastructure.

A change in the rainfall patterns, including extremes, will also have an impact on the region’s water resources. Thus, DCDC can use Mascaro’s rainfall models to help advance knowledge about decision making with uncertainty in the context of water sustainability and urban climate-change adaptation.

“If we trust the ability of climate models to reproduce large-scale weather patterns that cause extreme rainfall, we can quantify how the frequency of these patterns will change in future greenhouse gas emission scenarios,” Mascaro said. “We can combine this information with the statistical analyses on rainfall extremes observed by the gauges to obtain a more realistic prediction of the future rainfall distribution at local scales.”

Top photo: Assistant Professor Giuseppe Mascaro's research focuses on statistical analysis of rain gauge data collected by the Flood Control District of Maricopa County to better forecast extreme weather and build better infrastructure. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering