Antarctica's 'Doomsday Glacier' is hemorrhaging ice faster than in the past 5,500 years
Antarctica's so-called Doomsday Glacier is losing ice at its fastest rate in 5,500 years, raising concerns about the ice sheet's future and the possibility of catastrophic sea level rise caused by the frozen continent's melting ice.
The finding comes from a study of prehistoric sea-deposits found on the shores surrounding the "doomsday" Thwaites Glacier and the neighboring Pine Island Glacier, both located on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The chilling news? Antarctica's glacial melt, driven by climate change, is advancing faster than ever before in recorded history, researchers have reported June 9 in the journal Nature Geoscience(opens in new tab).
"These currently elevated rates of ice melting may signal that those vital arteries from the heart of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have been ruptured, leading to accelerating flow into the ocean that is potentially disastrous for future global sea level in a warming world," co-author Dylan Rood, an Earth scientist at Imperial College London, said in a statement.
Scientists warn of summer ‘danger season’ amid fires, floods and heatwaves
Summer in the northern hemisphere has not even officially started, but already the season has brought wildfires, floods, droughts and heatwaves.
But that kind of exteme weather is now par for the course when it comes to the climate crisis – and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a nonprofit group, has come up with a new name for the hottest months of the year.
“Because of climate change, the months of May through October amount to Danger Season in the US and around the world,” wrote Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at UCS.
Summer is when many climate-related disasters strike in the US, she explained – from the heatwaves that peak in the hotter months to the Atlantic Hurricane season that runs from June through the fall. Hotter temperatures also bring a higher risk of wildfires, and can worsen the impact of drought
University of California, Los Angeles
Most major U.S. cities are underprepared for rising temperatures
This month, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix all posted record high temperatures. And across the nation, Americans are ramping up for a scorching summer. Yet despite more frequent and intense heat waves on the horizon, cities are underprepared to deal with the challenge, according to a UCLA-led research team.
Their new study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, analyzed municipal planning documents from 50 large cities across the country. The researchers found that 78% of these cities’ climate plans mentioned heat as a problem, but few offered a comprehensive strategy to address it. Even fewer addressed the disproportionate impact heat has on low-income residents and communities of color.
“Just a couple of years ago, very few cities were talking about preparing for rising temperatures, so it’s an important step that heat is becoming a larger part of the conversation,” said V. Kelly Turner, lead author of the study and co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “But without concrete steps to protect residents, cities are lagging behind the problem.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
May 2022 among Earth’s top-10 warmest
The globe wrapped up May 2022 as another warm one in the record books, with the month ranking as the ninth-warmest May in 143 years.
Last month’s heat added to a very warm year, as 2022 so far ranked sixth warmest, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
As global temperatures rise, desert climates have spread north by up to 100 kilometres in parts of Central Asia since the 1980s, a climate assessment reveals.
The study, published on 27 May in Geophysical Research Letters, also found that over the past 35 years, temperatures have increased across all of Central Asia, which includes parts of China, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In the same period, mountain regions have become hotter and wetter — which might have accelerated the retreat of some major glaciers. […]
They found that since the late 1980s, the area classed as having a desert climate has expanded eastwards, and has spread north by as much as 100 kilometres in northern Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, in southern Kazakhstan and around the Junggar Basin in northwestern China. [Study co-author Qi Hu, an Earth and climate scientist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln] says this is a substantial expansion and has had a domino effect on adjacent climate zones, which have also become drier.
The New York Times
Raft by Raft, a Rainforest Loses Its Trees
The mighty Congo River has become a highway for sprawling flotillas of logs — African teak, wenge and bomanga in colors of licorice, candy bars and carrot sticks. For months at a time, crews in the Democratic Republic of Congo live aboard these perilous rafts, piloting the timber in pursuit of a sliver of profit from the dismantling of a crucial forest. […]
Forests like these pull huge amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air, making them essential to slow global warming. The expanded scale of illegal logging imperils their role in protecting humanity’s future.
The Congo Basin rainforest, second in size only to the Amazon, is becoming increasingly vital as a defense against climate change as the Amazon is felled. However, the Democratic Republic of Congo for several years in a row has been losing more old-growth rainforest, research shows, than any country except for Brazil.
With sea ice melting, glacial ice could be a lifeline for polar bears
When Kristin Laidre began working on a long-term project to study polar bears in eastern Greenland, she didn’t expect to find a new subpopulation of the species — and she certainly didn’t expect to find the most genetically isolated polar bears on the planet.
There are 19 recognized subpopulations of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) living throughout the Arctic, including the subpopulation found living on the eastern coast of Greenland. But on the southeastern edge of the island, Laidre and her colleagues found a group of several hundred polar bears that were both behaviorally and genetically unique. While most polar bears depend on sea ice to hunt seals, the southeast Greenland polar bears had found ways to hunt using pieces of ice that had broken off from glaciers. […]
A new report published in Science by Laidre and her colleagues suggests that the glacial ice, known as “marine-terminating glaciers,” could serve as “previously unrecognized climate refugia,” showing how polar bears might be able to survive in a warming world.
E&E Climate Wire
Emperor penguin decline a ‘done deal’ without global action
The fate of the emperor penguin is in doubt, as global warming threatens its icy habitat — and world leaders struggle to enact protections that could buy the iconic Antarctica bird some much-needed time. […]
Scientists warn that without global climate action, the regal black-and-white bird will face serious declines within a few decades. One recent study found that if world leaders fail to strengthen existing climate policies, emperor penguin colonies are likely to go extinct — or at least shrink to unsustainable numbers — by the end of this century.
If the world manages to achieve Paris Agreement goals and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, many penguin colonies would be saved, according to another study by many of the same researchers. But even under that scenario, nearly a third of the planet’s emperor penguins could disappear.
“For me, I think it’s a done deal now,” [said Phil Trathan, former head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey and a professor at the University of Southampton]. “The projections suggest that by the middle of this century, in two or three decades’ time, we’ll begin to see declines.”
Climate change: Bonn talks end in acrimony over compensation
Two weeks of climate talks in Germany have ended in acrimony between rich and poor countries over cash for climate damage. […]
Developing nations say they need money to deal with the impacts of climate change, because they suffer the effects more than richer nations and have less financial capacity to cope.
They argue that the climate change they are experiencing has been caused by carbon emitted by richer countries as they developed their economies. They say that Europe and the US have a responsibility now to compensate them for this.
The US and Europe don't agree. They fear that if they pay for historic emissions it could put their countries on the hook for billions of dollars for decades or even centuries to come.
[…] A new study quantifies the severity of the impact of the pandemic on Americans who did not have access to health insurance. According to findings published on Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, from the pandemic’s beginning until mid-March 2022, universal health care could have saved more than 338,000 lives from COVID-19 alone. The U.S. also could have saved $105.6 billion in health care costs associated with hospitalizations from the disease—on top of the estimated $438 billion that could be saved in a nonpandemic year.
“Health care reform is long overdue in the U.S.,” says the study’s lead author Alison Galvani, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis at the Yale School of Public Health. “Americans are needlessly losing lives and money.”
More than six centuries ago, the Black Death ravaged Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The plague killed up to 60 percent of the people in western Eurasia within eight years. How the bacterial strain responsible for this pandemic infiltrated human populations has been debated ever since.
In a study published on June 15 in Nature, an international group of researchers pinpoints the Black Death’s ground zero to early 14th-century Central Asia. They analyzed historical records, archaeological data, and DNA from the teeth of skeletons buried in two cemeteries in Kyrgyzstan. Within those 700-year-old remains, the scientists identified the plague-causing bacterium, Yersinia pestis.
The Jerusalem Post
New time crystal experiment may open new horizons in quantum computing
In a new experiment, an international team of scientists has managed to link two time crystals, which may be useful in quantum computing. […]
These crystals are the first objects to break what is known as "time-translation symmetry," a rule in physics that says that a stable object will remain unchanged throughout time. Time crystals violate this rule, being both stable and ever-changing. […]
The scientists from Lancaster University, Royal Holloway London, Landau Institute and Aalto University in Helsinki published their work in Nature Communications earlier this month.
“Everybody knows that perpetual motion machines are impossible," Dr. Samuli Autti, lead author of the study from Lancaster University’s Department of Physics, said in a press statement. "However, in quantum physics, perpetual motion is okay as long as we keep our eyes closed. By sneaking through this crack we can make time crystals.”
Paleontologists Find First Known Dinosaur Belly Button
Forget dinosaurs engaged in vicious combat. Put aside terrifying fangs and claws. Scientists have discovered a softer side to dinosaurs: the reptilian equivalent of a belly button.
For the first time ever, scientists have identified an umbilical scar on a non-avian dinosaur. The paper announcing this find is published in BMC Biology, and it’s yet another exciting discovery from a particularly rare and well-preserved Psittacosaurus fossil from China. (Other delights from this same specimen include a cloaca and countershading camouflage.)
For mammals, belly buttons are the result of a detached umbilical cord at birth. But reptiles and birds, whose reproductive method is to lay eggs, have no such cord. Inside an egg, the embryo’s abdomen is connected to a yolk sac and other membranes. The scar occurs when the embryo detaches from those membranes directly before or as it hatches from the egg. Known as an umbilical scar, it is the non-mammalian form of a belly button. And that is exactly what the international team of scientists claims to have found on this fossil.
The Washington Post
This Styrofoam-eating ‘superworm’ could help solve the garbage crisis
A plump larva the length of a paper clip can survive on the material that makes Styrofoam. The organism, commonly called a “superworm,” could transform the way waste managers dispose of one of the most common components in landfills, researchers said, potentially slowing a mounting garbage crisis that is exacerbating climate change.
In a paper released last week in the journal of Microbial Genomics, scientists from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, showed that the larvae of a darkling beetle, called zophobas morio, can survive solely on polystyrene, commonly called Styrofoam.
The findings come amid a flurry of research on ways bacteria and other organisms can consume plastic materials, like Styrofoam and drinking bottles.
Invasive fire ants could be controlled by viruses, scientists say
Fire ant mounds are an unwelcome herald of spring across a widening swath of the American South and West, but scientists say experiments with species-specific pathogens offer hope for restoring balance to ecosystems affected by the highly invasive insect.
A study published in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology found that a virus known as solenopsis invicta virus 3 had a significant effect on red imported fire ant colonies. Researchers saw a sevenfold decrease in the number of nests, as well as a correspondingly significant decrease in the size of nests, over the course of the evaluation.
The study, although small and limited to one species, could have implications for how infestations are treated. Chemical pesticides are the first-line defense and are widely deployed around homes and public spaces, including schools, parks and playgrounds.
How cannabis-fed chickens may help cut Thai farmers’ antibiotic use
It all began when Ong-ard Panyachatiraksa, a farm owner in the north of Thailand who is licensed to grow medicinal cannabis, was wondering what to do with the many excess leaves he had amassed. He asked: could his brood of chickens benefit from the leftovers?
Academics at Chiang Mai University were also curious. Since last January they have studied 1,000 chickens at Ong-ard’s Pethlanna organic farm, in Lampang, to see how the animals responded when cannabis was mixed into their feed or water.
The results are promising and suggest that cannabis could help reduce farmers’ dependence on antibiotics, according to Chompunut Lumsangkul, an assistant professor at Chiang Mai University’s department of animal and aquatic sciences, who led the study.
A Mouse Study Just Revealed a New Molecular Link Between Hunger And Exercise
It's well established that regular exercise benefits our bodies, not least in protecting against obesity, but scientists are continuing to look more closely at why this happens on a molecular level.
In a new study, scientists put mice on intense treadmill workouts and analyzed how the chemicals in the cells of the animals then began to change over time. They found the appearance of a metabolite called Lac-Phe (N-lactoyl-phenylalanine), synthesized from lactate and phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is an amino acid that combines to make proteins, and you might be familiar with lactate: It is produced by the body after strenuous exercise.
The study authors think they've found an important biological pathway opened up by exercise, which then has an impact on the rest of the body – specifically in the level of appetite and the amount of food taken in.
When Cats Chew Catnip, It Works as a Bug Spray
For even the most aloof cats, just a few leaves of catnip can trigger excited fits of chewing, kicking and rolling around.
Silver vine—or matatabi in Japanese—inspires a similar plant-induced euphoria in our feline friends. The response certainly looks like fun, but until recently, scientists were unsure if the cats’ behavior might actually have other benefits than pure pleasure.
New research, published this week in iScience, suggests that when cats play with (and damage) either catnip or silver vine, the plants’ leaves actually emit higher levels of chemical compounds that do have a benefit: repelling mosquitoes. Both plants can act as a sort of natural bug spray, and when cats chew up the leaves, that bug spray becomes even more effective. Researchers at the University of Iwate in Japan, who have been investigating cats’ interactions with catnip and silver vine for several years, were behind the research.
University of California, Santa Cruz
Hunting in darkness, elephant seals use sensitive whiskers to find prey
The deep ocean is a dark place, yet deep-diving elephant seals can easily locate fish and squid in the darkness. A multinational research team has now shown how elephant seals use their sensitive whiskers to detect motion in the water and track down prey.
To conduct the study, published June 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at UC Santa Cruz and the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) in Japan deployed miniature video cameras attached to the cheeks of female elephant seals, along with other innovative technologies for tracking the seals’ behavior in the wild. […]
The new study showed that elephant seals perform rhythmic whisker movements—protracting and retracting their whiskers—when they are searching for prey at depth. At the surface and at the start of dives, the seals kept their whiskers in a relaxed position, but once they reached depths where they typically forage for small fish and squid, they extended their whiskers and began the whisking motion, which is similar to the way rodents and other terrestrial mammals use whiskers to explore their environments.
Experiment settles long time debate about evolution—in E. coli, at least
A pair of researchers at Michigan State University has conducted an experiment with Escherichia coli bacteria meant to help settle a long-time debate in the evolutionary community. They have written a paper describing their experiment and results and have posted it on the bioRxiv website.
For many years, scientists in the evolutionary biology community have debated which has a bigger impact on the evolutionary process—diversity or random mutations. In this new effort, Minako Izutsu and Richard Lenski carried out an experiment involving evolution in E. coli bacteria over 300 days that included testing which—diversity or mutation—would have the greatest impact on their evolutionary development.
The Washington Post
Electrocuted birds are sparking wildfires
In 2014, a wildfire ripped through central Chile, destroying 2500 homes and killing at least 13 people. A year later, a blaze in Idaho burned more than 4000 hectares, an area nearly 12 times the size of New York City’s Central Park. Both conflagrations had one thing in common: Experts believe they were started by birds.
Our feathered friends love to perch on power lines, which can be a great place to rest and launch an attack. But if a bird touches the wrong wires together, or somehow forms an electrical pathway to the ground, it can get fried. Falling to the floor like winged Molotov cocktails, birds can spark an inferno if they hit an especially dry, tindered patch of earth.
More than three dozen fires started this way in the United States from 2014 to 2018, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of such blazes. “The ecological and economic losses are substantial,” says Antoni Margalida, a conservation biologist at the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology who has studied the impacts of wildfires caused by birds and other fauna in Spain but who was not involved with the work.
The University of Texas at Austin
Climate Change is Coming for Your Ketchup
Climate change is on track to interfere with tomato production – and could be especially bad news for fans of ketchup, pizza sauce and other processed tomato products.
According to a study published in Nature Food, rising temperatures are projected to lower yields around the world for “processing tomatoes” – the cultivar used in ketchup and other tomato products. By 2050, the global supply of processing tomatoes is expected to decrease by 6% compared to the study’s baseline of 1990-2009, with Italy’s crop being among the hardest hit.
“The processing tomatoes are grown in the open fields, which means that we cannot control the environment in which they grow. This makes the production vulnerable to climate change,” said lead author Davide Cammarano, a professor at Aarhus University.
University of Michigan
The quiet life of Messier 94
[…] Most galaxies have bulges at their centers. Depending on their properties—specifically, the kinematics of their stars—the bulges have different names. Stars within classical bulges move a bit randomly, resembling elliptical galaxies, and seem to be older than their galaxy, while stars within pseudobulges move by rotation, like spiral galaxies, and don’t differ in age from their galaxy.
Astronomers use a galaxy’s stellar halo as a “fossil record” to study these bulges. Stellar halos can, for example, tell astronomers whether a galaxy has merged with another galaxy in its past.
A University of Michigan doctoral student has examined the pseudobulge of the nearby disk galaxy Messier 94 and has found that despite the galaxy having the largest pseudobulge in the local universe, likely no massive galaxies crashed into M94 in the past.
Scientists May Have Found Where the Bodies of Waterloo Went
On June 18, 1815, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon’s army at Waterloo, marking the end of the First French Empire. For eight grueling hours, the armies exchanged cannon shots, gunfire and sabre strikes, leaving 50,000 soldiers captured, wounded or dead. The battle was one of the deadliest of the century, but to the bewilderment of archaeologists, only one full skeleton has been found to this day.
In a study published in the Journal of Conflict Archaeology, an expert argues that the bodies haven’t been found because their bodies were used to make fertilizer.
Tony Pollard, author of the study and director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, used written accounts and artwork from early visitors to conclude that deceased soldiers were buried in several mass graves, each containing thousands of corpses.
NASA Insists All Is Well as the Webb Telescope's Mirror Gets Dinged
In some ways, the last place you’d want to put the James Webb Space Telescope is, well, in space. If you owned a $10 billion car, you wouldn’t leave it out in a hail storm, and while there’s no hail in space, there are plenty of micrometeoroids—high speed debris no bigger than a dust grain but moving so fast they can pack a true destructive wallop. Every day, millions of such fragments rain down on Earth, but they incinerate in the atmosphere long before they reach the ground. The Webb, parked in a spot in space 1.6 million km (1 million mi.) from Earth, has no such protection. And as NASA and others have reported in the past week, its mirror—the heart of the space telescope—has already been dinged five times by tiny space flecks, the most recent of which has done real, but correctable, damage. […]
What makes the recent micrometeoroid hit especially troubling is that while NASA scientists simulated such collisions on the ground, the impact that occurred is bigger than the ones they modeled. “With Webb’s mirror exposed to space, we expected that occasional micrometeoroid impacts would gracefully degrade telescope performance over time,” Lee Feinberg, a Webb telescope optical manager, said in a statement. “This one…is larger than our degradation predictions assumed.”
That does not remotely mean that the telescope is seriously damaged before it can even go about its work. The position of the mirror segments can be moved in increments measured in nanometers—or billionths of a meter—allowing a damaged segment to be precisely refocused to cancel out the effect of the ding. Ground crews have already adjusted the damaged segment accordingly, keeping the telescope on track to release its first images to the public on July 12.
NASA prepares to power-down Voyager spacecraft after more than 44 years
After more than 44 years of travelling farther from Earth than any man-made objects have before, the Voyager spacecraft are entering their very final phase. […]
Both of the spacecraft are powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) - powered by the heat from decaying spheres of plutonium - although the output of these RTGs is decreasing by about four watts every year.
This means instruments are being turned off one by one. As of today Voyager 1 only has four functioning instruments left, and Voyager 2 has five.
Ancient meteorite upends our ideas of how Mars formed
A meteorite that landed on Earth more than 200 years ago is upending our ideas of how Mars formed. A new analysis of it reveals that the interior chemical make-up of the Red Planet largely came from meteorite collisions, rather than from a cloud of gases as was previously thought. This makes Mars’s early formation similar to that of Earth.
Most of what we know about Mars’s mantle, the section of rock outside the planet’s core, comes from three Martian meteorites that landed on Earth after being blasted off Mars by impacts: Shergotty, Nakhla and Chassingy. […]
Now, Sandrine Péron at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and Sujoy Mukhopadhyay at the University of California, Davis, have analysed a sample from Chassigny to look at isotopes of krypton – another inert gas – which allows for more precise measurements, using a high-resolution mass spectrometer.
Behold the Magnetar, nature’s ultimate superweapon
If you think black holes are the scariest things in the Universe, I have something to share with you.
There are balls of dead matter no bigger than a city yet shining a hundred times brighter than the Sun that send out flares of X-rays visible across the galaxy. Their interiors are made of superfluid subatomic particles, and they have cores of exotic and unknown states of matter. Their lifetime is only a few thousand years.
And here's the best part: They have the strongest magnetic fields ever observed, so strong they can melt you—literally dissociate you down to the atomic level—from a thousand kilometers away.
These are the magnetars, perhaps the most fearsome entities ever known.
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