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Rapid climate change is transforming the Arctic into a state never before seen in human history, scientists tell Axios.
Why it matters: Land ice and sea ice are melting, and humanity is slowly losing the refrigerator of the Northern Hemisphere, which could have drastic implications for iconic wildlife, global weather patterns and valuable infrastructure.
Details: The Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the world, and melting sea ice and snow are yielding ground to darker ocean waters and land cover, which absorb more of the sun’s incoming energy.
“The Arctic is shifting over time from white to blue. ... It’s a game-changer.”— Karen Frey, a geographer at Clark University
Frey, who helped write a federal report on the changing Arctic that was released Tuesday, says the tightly interwoven nature of the Arctic environment means there’s a series of domino effects taking place, the results of which we don’t yet fully understand.
Permafrost isn’t actually forever: Increasing temperatures are causing the once-deep layer of permanently frozen soil to melt from within.
The impact: "It is very likely that there will be an increasing amount of problems (e.g., infrastructure damages) if climate warming and thaw of ice-rich permafrost proceeds as projected," Jan Hjort, a geographer at the University of Oulu in Finland, who led the new permafrost infrastructure study, told Axios in an email.
Some of the already observed effects of permafrost melt include:
As permafrost warms, methane, a more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide, is bubbling up beneath Arctic lakes, and pock-marked landscapes known as thermokarst formations are transforming the tundra. Methane and other greenhouse gases are likely escaping from many of these locations too, especially small lakes.
The outlook: Although the Trump administration is seeking to speed up oil and gas drilling in northern Alaska, rapid climate change may actually serve as a hinderance for new industrial development.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
By examining brain tissues and developing an AI that scours a huge and improved gene database, research is narrowing in on the genes underlying serious psychiatric disorders, a consortium of scientists announced Thursday, Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes.
Why it matters: Ultimately, they want to develop more targeted drugs or other treatments by determining how psychiatric disorders form in the brain. The results from the consortium of 15 research institutions are considered a "big step" toward reaching that ultimate goal, particularly for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism, some experts tell Axios.
Background: It's now known there are hundreds of genes in the brain that can play a role in boosting the risk factors for these psychiatric disorders — but how the disorders develop on a molecular level, and what role those variations in genes play, is not known.
What they did: The 10 studies looked at about 2,000 individual brain samples — both tissues and single cells.
The deep-learning model that examined and integrated the huge amount of data to predict risk factors for disorders was lauded by several sources as an important advance.
The big picture: A lot of new research is expected to flow from these findings."The biggest impact will be [the data] as a scientific resource for the whole community," Stanford University's Michael Snyder, who was not part of these studies, tells Axios.
Go deeper: Read the entire post.
Health officials are dedicating resources toward investigating the polio-like illness acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) not only because it's a devastating illness but also because they're concerned it could develop into something affecting larger numbers of people, an expert at Children's National Health System tells Eileen.
Why it matters: AFM has infected and sometimes partially paralyzed a small but growing number of U.S. children. Cases of AFM have reached a record high in the U.S., with 158 confirmed in 36 states this year so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the illness remains rare and, for this reason, some question the public resources dedicated to it.
The biggest question is what is causing the illness. The CDC is looking into 3 main tracts: a viral infection of motor neurons involved in the body's movement, an indirect infection that leads to an immune response affecting the motor neurons, and genetic factors that may increase a patient's susceptibility to the illness.
What we know:
Go deeper: Read the entire post.
This illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Voyager 2 goes interstellar: NASA's probe reached interstellar space at about 11 billion miles from Earth, making it the only second human-made object to do so, according to the space agency. Unlike Voyager 1, it has done so with its instruments intact, sending scientists on Earth valuable data.
Big bucks for quantum computing: High-profile companies like Goldman-Sachs are pouring money into quantum computing, making a bet that its business applications will expand dramatically in coming years, Kaveh Waddell reports.
Dire climate warming may have been too optimistic: Prominent climate scientists published a paper arguing the UN IPCC's recent report may be underestimating the amount of warming we'll see in the next 2 decades, Ben Geman reports.
Space milestone: Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic successfully launched its VSS Unity spacecraft to the edge of space, just beyond 50 miles above the surface of the Earth, placing it closer to its goal of commercial space tourism, Shannon Vavra writes.
Filming the coral bleaching at Lizard Island in March 2016. Credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey
Exploration: In the next two weeks, scientists plan to send a remotely operated vehicle through a 3,000-foot hole in the Antarctic ice sheet to enter a subglacial lake for the first time, Douglas Fox writes for Nature.
Mars 2020: Scientists are studying coastal Iceland for clues about what conditions may have been on the Red Planet about 3 billion years ago. By studying volcanic Iceland's organisms, researchers hope to learn what the Mars rover should be looking for in its search for life, Ramin Skibba writes for Hakai Magazine.
Guarded optimism on coral reefs: Back-to-back coral bleaching events in part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef showed the ability of some coral species to tolerate higher heat exposures, raising hopes that increasing ocean temperatures might not doom these havens of biodiversity, Kendra Pierre-Louis reports for the New York Times.
Wolves are known for their ability to adapt to their environment and adjust their diets accordingly. They consume everything from small mammals to spawning salmon in Alaska. But they have not been known to freshwater fish, until now.
A pack of wolves was recently observed hunting freshwater fish. At night. Successfully.
Why it matters: The new research, published in the journal Mammalian Biology, claims this is the first recorded instance of wolves using fish as a seasonal food source outside of a coastal marine environment.
What they did: The researchers used GPS collars to collect location data from more than seven packs of wolves every 20 minutes, allowing them to determine the wolves' territory and predation behaviors.
What they're saying: “The wolves are standing next to the creek in the dark, just listening or looking,” researcher Tom Gable from the University of Minnesota said. “You can see the wolves abruptly head to the water several times after hearing a splash — they learned what a fish splashing in the creek sounds like and they know that it means food. Incredible.”
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