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Bleached coral on Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef in 2016. Photo: Underwater Earth/XL Catlin Seaview
Repetitive, severe marine heat waves are disrupting the Great Barrier Reef's ability to regrow with a similar abundance and mix of species as before, a new study warns. The paper, published in Nature Wednesday, depicts a vast, complex reef ecosystem that is on the verge of "ecological collapse."
Why it matters: The Great Barrier Reef is the word's largest coral reef ecosystem, spanning 1,400 miles from north to south off the eastern coast of Australia. The new results add to a series of grim findings about just how vulnerable this reef community, long viewed as too big to fail.
What they did: For the study, researchers at Australia's Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies examined coral reproduction, or spawning, rates from one year to the next, by combining years of in situ measurements out on the Great Barrier Reef.
What they're saying: The increased frequency of bleaching events means that more corals could perish before they can recover.
"One more large scale bleaching event in the next few years and it could be curtains" for many parts of the Great Barrier Reef, study co-author Andrew Baird, of James Cook University in Australia, tells Axios via email.
But, but, but: Severe coral bleaching events mean that the surviving corals may be more heat-tolerant and could survive future events, if they're allowed to mature first.
Madhavi Colton, program director with the nonprofit Coral Reef Alliance, says she's eager to see what happens with coral recruitment (the process by which coral larvae attach themselves to existing coral) beyond just a single year after the bleaching events.
The bottom line: According to Kim Cobb, a climate scientist and coral expert at Georgia Tech, the future of the world's reef ecosystems will look nothing like what we've known. “Will they ever get back to where they were before these events happened? Probably not," she says.
"Will they look very, very different? Will there just be a different kind of reef there, will they have a different functionality? Maybe yes.” She added, though, that the outlook for the world's reefs is "pretty bleak."
Artist's illustration of a planet disintegrating in orbit around a white dwarf star. Photo: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick
A fragment of a planet orbiting a white dwarf star 400 light-years away gives scientists a rare glimpse into the death of a solar system, according to a new study published in the journal Science Thursday, Axios' Miriam Kramer writes.
The big picture: The planetary fragment, known as a planetesimal, orbits within a disc of gas and dust — the remnants of other, destroyed planets — surrounding the white dwarf. According to some stellar forensics, the world is thought to represent the remains of a once larger planet that was battered by the death of its star.
Why it matters: One day, billions of years from now, our sun will run out of fuel, first becoming a red giant and then collapsing into a white dwarf itself. Learning more about other solar systems like ours can help scientists, in turn, figure out what our cosmic neighborhood might look like in the distant future.
What they did: The team of researchers behind this study found the planetesimal, which is thought to be about the size of the largest asteroids in our solar system, by observing the disc of debris around the star.
What they found: By observing the white dwarf, which is a tiny, dense remnant of the core of a star, as well as the planetesimal, scientists were able to watch the planetary material "pollute" the atmosphere of the white dwarf. This occurred as the dense star stripped away the outer layers of the world.
What they're saying: White dwarf researcher Andrew Vanderburg, of UT Austin who wasn't involved in the study, tells Axios that "polluted white dwarf systems are important because they are the only way we have to learn what minerals and elements rocky planets in other systems are made of."
A man records the 2-mile Walk to End Alzheimer's finish in Huntington Beach on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. Photo: Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register
Scientists are seeking early diagnostics for Alzheimer's that could predict who is likely to develop the disease before noticeable symptoms materialize, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes. In recent months, a large study was published showing that certain PET scans can lead to more accurate diagnoses, while other researchers are looking for disease biomarkers that may be evident in the eye, spinal fluid or the blood.
Why it matters: Alzheimer's, which is expected to affect 14 million Americans by 2060, starts decades before outward signs are indicated. While high-profile drug treatment trial failures, which were aimed at halting the degenerative disease, have occurred recently, scientists believe there are steps people can take that may help delay memory loss or alleviate other symptoms — and catching Alzheimer's early may be especially beneficial.
What's new: Howard Fillit, founding executive director and chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, tells Axios:
Other exciting developments in the works, Fillit says, are tests of early diagnostics in the eyes, blood and spinal fluid that look for amyloids and tau, plus inflammatory and neurodegeneration markers.
He expects there will be a blood test in a couple of years and says "this is a really exciting time for biomarkers in this space." Biomarkers are something — such as amyloids — that can be measured and indicate the possible presence of a disease.
Meanwhile, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos joined the Diagnostics Accelerator formed over the summer to develop novel biomarkers for the early detection of Alzheimer's, bringing the total funding for new grants over the next 3 years to $50 million, ADDF announced Tuesday.
The bottom line: Billions are being spent by the U.S. government and biotech companies to understand the cause and to pin down better diagnostics and treatments. "Alzheimer's will look like cancer [research] soon," Fillit says. "We will have precision medicine."
Samples found in South America of the Chicxulub asteroid that is thought to have triggered a mass extinction on Earth. Photo: Kike Calvo/UIG via Getty Images
On Friday, the New Yorker published a wild tale about a bombshell claim: A paleontologist working at a dig site in North Dakota has found fossil evidence that shows the most detailed picture yet of the devastation wrought just minutes after a massive asteroid slammed into what is now the Yucatán peninsula about 66 million years ago.
Geologists widely believe that the impact, near the Mexican town of Chicxulub, set in motion a series of cataclysmic events that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, and much other life on Earth.
The story, not surprisingly, went viral. The New Yorker piece also quickly caused a controversy in the paleontology community. Many scientists dissected the story and the evidence in lengthy Twitter threads that are worth reading.
The story centers around a fossil hunter named Robert DePalma, currently a graduate student in paleontology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
My quick take:
What they're saying: A number of publications wrote stories including the voices of skeptical outside researchers, and these are worth reading after The New Yorker piece. These include:
But, but, but: Other researchers unaffiliated with the work expressed amazement and great interest in DePalma's findings, and they did not indicate the claims are too good to be true.
Why you'll hear more about this: The first paper is just the beginning of a scholarly debate about the North Dakota site that will continue to play out in the coming months and possibly even years.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague works outside the International Space Station. Photo: NASA
Israeli lunar lander Beresheet is now orbiting the moon: The crowdfunded lunar lander is nearing its target.
Boeing delays first uncrewed launch of Starliner to Space Station: The new date is just the latest in a series of missed deadlines.
Mysterious polio-like illness could be from "hit and run" virus: Researchers are still puzzled over an illness that is affecting mainly children.
India's anti-satellite test put the Space Station at risk, NASA says: The NASA leader sent an angry letter to his Indian counterpart.
Open water is seen between Alaska and Russia across the Bering Sea, as ice extent plummets to record low levels there. Image: NASA Worldview
Cats know their names — whether they care is another matter (Colin Barras, Nature)
Satellite photos show how pitiful ice cover is in the Arctic right now (Mark Kaufman, Mashable)
Why the Air Force still cannot identify more than a dozen satellites from one December launch (Loren Grush, The Verge)
Waking From Hibernation, the Hard Work of Spring Begins (Steph Yin, NYT)
Apollo astronauts left their poop on the moon. We gotta go back for that shit. (Brian Resnick, Vox)
Scientists recently discovered a field of hydrothermal vents about 6,500 feet underneath the Gulf of California, where they observed tall mineral structures that host a diverse array of marine life.
Why it matters: The purpose of the expedition, which was partly carried out using the remotely operated vehicle known as SuBastian (the platforms are named after characters from the 1984 sci-fi film, "The NeverEnding Story"), was aimed at examining hydrothermal and gas plumes where scientists think ancient life forms developed, and where undiscovered species lurk today.
Details: These towers reached up to 75 feet tall, according to the Schmidt Ocean Institute, whose research vessel, Falkor, was used for the expedition. Mandy Joye of the University of Georgia and her team of researchers also found structures that look like mirrors given the extremely hot fluids that lie underneath them.
The minerals in this location contained metals, and the fluid had high amounts of sulfide, yet the area was teeming with life. “We discovered remarkable towers where every surface was occupied by some type of life. The vibrant colors found on the ‘living rocks’ was striking, and reflects a diversity in biological composition as well as mineral distributions,” Joye said in a press release.
Thanks so much for reading, and see you back here next Thursday!