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Update February 2018

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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
Science & Nature

Saturday, February 24, 2018 - March 2, 2018

Heavy rain unearths ancient graves in backyard in Gaza

(AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip (AP) - A Palestinian says he has discovered an ancient burial ground in the backyard of his house in the Gaza Strip. Abdelkarim al-Kafarna said Friday he found a tomb consisting of nine burial holes with bones and some clay pots. Archeologists in Gaza believe the site is about 2,000 years old, dating back to the Roman era, when the territory was part of the far-flung Roman Empire. But they say further tests are needed to determine the exact age. Al-Kafarna said he found it by accident after heavy rains this week unearthed parts of the underground chamber. Gaza, now ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, is on the route between Egypt and ancient Levantine civilizations. It is packed with ancient archaeology endangered by urban sprawl, conflict and years of neglect.

Climate change diet: Arctic sea ice thins, so do polar bears


A polar bear wearing a GPS video-camera collar lies on a chunk of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. A new study released on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018 shows some polar bears in the Arctic are shedding pounds during the time they are supposed to be beefing up. Scientists blame climate change for shrinking the ice cover on the Arctic Ocean that the polar bears need for hunting. (Anthony Pagano/USGS via AP)

Seth Borenstein and Mark Thiessen

Anchorage, Alaska (AP) - Some polar bears in the Arctic are shedding pounds during the time they should be beefing up, a new study shows. It’s the climate change diet and scientists say it’s not good.

They blame global warming for the dwindling ice cover on the Arctic Ocean that bears need for hunting seals each spring.

For their research, the scientists spied on the polar bears by equipping nine female white giants with tracking collars that had video cameras and the bear equivalent of a Fitbit during three recent springs. The bears also had their blood monitored and were weighed.

What the scientists found is that five of the bears lost weight and four of them lost 2.9 to 5.5 pounds (1.3 to 2.5 kilograms) per day. The average polar bear studied weighed about 386 pounds (175 kilograms). One bear lost 51 pounds (23 kilograms) in just nine days.

“You’re talking a pretty amazing amount of mass to lose,” said U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist Anthony Pagano, lead author of a new study in Thursday’s journal Science.

Researchers studied the bears for 10 days in April, when they are supposed to begin putting on weight so they can later have cubs, feed the cubs and survive through the harsh winter. But because the ice is shrinking, the bears are having a harder time catching seal pups even during prime hunting time, Pagano said. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service lists polar bears as a threatened species.

Polar bears hunt from the ice. They often wait for seals to pop out of holes to get air and at other times they swim after seals. If there is less sea ice and it is broken apart, bears have to travel more - often swimming - and that has serious consequences, such as more energy use, hypothermia and risk of death, said University of Alberta biology professor Andrew Derocher, who wasn’t part of the study.

The study found that on the ice, the polar bears burn up 60 percent more energy than previously thought, based on these first real-life measurements done on the ice. A few of the bears travelled more than 155 miles (250 kilometers) in about 10 days off the northern coast of Alaska in the Beaufort Sea, Pagano said. The average bear female burned about 13,200 calories a day - six times more than an active human female.

“Just to break even they have to capture at least one seal every five to 10 days - and that’s just to break even,” said study co-author George Durner, a USGS research zoologist. “And if they don’t do that they’re going to lose weight.”

The ice cover in the Arctic grows in the winter and melts in the summer. Because of climate change, the ice is shrinking and thinning more and earlier, he said.

As the ice dwindles, “we are essentially pulling the rug out from underneath the polar bears,” Durner said.

The bear videos showed researchers all sorts of usually private aspects of polar bear life, including courtship and hunting. They recorded dramatic, and at times, bloody seal hunts from the bear’s perspective.

“You’re seeing everything it is seeing,” Durner said.

Researchers only tracked female bears because males can’t keep collars on - their heads are too small and their necks too big - Pagano said.

Blaine Griffen, a Brigham Young University biology professor who wasn’t part of the study, praised the USGS work, noting that past studies have looked at resting polar bears and polar bears on treadmills in the lab.

In the long run, climate change “will result in smaller bears that produce fewer cubs and that have lower survival rates,” Griffen said in an email.

All over the Arctic, scientists have seen evidence of weakened polar bears, Pagano said. Last month, a video of a starving polar bear went viral, but it is from a different part of the Arctic and unlikely to be related to global warming, Durner said.

“If it’s bad for polar bears, it might be affecting us in other ways - us being humans,” Durner said. “It’s part of a larger picture.”

February 17, 2018 - February 23, 2018

Recording-setting spacewalk ends with antenna in wrong spot

This Jan. 31, 2018 photo made available by NASA shows cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin, left, and Anton Shkaplerov in their Russian Orlan spacesuits during a fit check inside the International Space Station. On Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, the two removed an old electronics box as part of an antenna upgrade at the ISS, then tossed it overboard as a piece of junk. (NASA via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - A record-setting Russian spacewalk ended with a critical antenna in the wrong position Friday outside the International Space Station.

NASA's Mission Control reported that the antenna was still working. Nevertheless, Russian space officials were convening a special team to see whether further action would be necessary. The antenna is used for communications with Russia's Mission Control outside Moscow.

The trouble arose toward the end of the more than 8 hour spacewalk - the longest ever by Russians and the fifth longest overall - after Commander Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov successfully replaced an electronics box to upgrade the antenna.

The pair watched in dismay as the antenna got hung up on the Russian side of the complex and could not be extended properly. The antenna - a long boom with a 4-foot dish at the end - had been folded up before the repair work.

Misurkin and Shkaplerov pushed, as flight controllers tried repeatedly, via remote commanding, to rotate the antenna into the right position. Finally, someone shouted in Russian, "It's moving. It's in place."

NASA Mission Control said from Houston that the antenna wound up in a position 180 degrees farther than anticipated.

The spacewalk dragged on so long - lasting 8 hours and 13 minutes - that Misurkin and Shkaplerov ended up surpassing the previous Russian record of 8 hours and 7 minutes, set in 2013. It was supposed to last 6 hours.

"Are you kidding us?" one of them asked when they heard about the record.

NASA still holds the world record, with a spacewalk just shy of nine hours back in 2001.

Misurkin and Shkaplerov also asked flight controllers whether the antenna was operating "or have we just wasted our time?" The response: It's being evaluated.

It was the second spacewalk in as many weeks. On Jan. 23, two U.S. astronauts went out to give a new hand to the station's big robotic arm. NASA had planned another spacewalk this week, but bumped it to mid-February because engineers needed extra time to get the mechanical hand working.

After removing the old, obsolete electronics box from the antenna - an original part, launched in 2000 - Misurkin shoved it away from the space station. The bundle tumbled harmlessly away, 250 miles above the North Atlantic.

The 60-pound box - measuring just a couple of feet, or less than a meter - was hurled in a direction that will not intersect with the space station, according to NASA officials.

While the Russians routinely toss old equipment and used towels overboard during spacewalks, NASA prefers to secure no-longer-needed items or, if possible, bring them inside. Except for SpaceX's cargo ships, empty supply capsules are filled with trash and set loose to burn up in the atmosphere. The discarded electronics box will re-enter and burn up, too; Mission Control said it did not know when that will occur.

Misurkin will return to Earth at the end of this month with two NASA crewmates.

The space station is home to two Russians, three Americans and one Japanese.


Update February 10, 2018 - February 16, 2018

AP Fact Check: Data melt Trump’s cooling, ice claims

In this Aug. 3, 2017 file photo, icebergs float in a fjord after calving off from glaciers on the Greenland ice sheet in southeastern Greenland. President Donald Trump seems to be describing another planet’s climate because the Earth he described doesn’t quite match what data shows and scientists say. In an interview with Piers Morgan airing Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, on Britain’s ITV News, the president said the world was cooling and warming at the same time and that claims of melting ice caps haven’t come true. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - President Donald Trump’s description of the climate on planet Earth doesn’t quite match what data show and scientists say.

In an interview with Piers Morgan airing Sunday on Britain’s ITV News, the president said the world was cooling and warming at the same time and that claims of melting ice caps haven’t come true.

Trump: “There is a cooling, and there’s a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place.”

Ten different climate scientists contacted by The Associated Press said the president was not accurate about climate change. Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis responded in an email: “Clearly President Trump is relying on alternative facts to inform his views on climate change. Ice on the ocean and on land are both disappearing rapidly, and we know why: increasing greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels that trap more heat and melt the ice. “

The Facts: The world hasn’t had a cooler than average year since 1976 and hasn’t had a cooler than normal month since the end of 1985, according to more than 135 years of temperature records kept by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The last four years have been the four hottest years on record globally, with 2010 the fifth hottest year, according to NOAA. Every year in the 21st century has been at least three quarters of a degree (0.4 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average and in the top 25 hottest years on record, NOAA records show.

And while a good chunk of the United States had a frigid snap recently, most of the rest of the world was far warmer than normal, according to temperature records.

Zeke Hausfather of the Berkeley Earth temperature monitoring program - initially funded by non-scientists who doubt that the world is warming - said in an email: “The world has been warming steadily over the past 50 years, with 17 of the past 18 years being the warmest since records began in the 1850s. It is not accurate to say that the climate has been ‘cooling as well as warming’.”

Trump: “The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records. They’re at a record level.”

The Facts: It is a bit more nuanced, but not quite right.

While a small number of experts a decade ago had predicted that Arctic would be free of summer sea ice by now, most mainstream scientists and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not, instead they said Arctic sea ice would shrink, which it has, said Pennsylvania State University ice scientist Richard Alley. Most scientists, including the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, are predicting that the Arctic will be free of summer sea ice sometime around the 2040s.

The Arctic set a record for the lowest amount of sea ice in the winter, when sea ice usually grows to its maximum levels, in March 2017. In 2012, the Arctic set a record for lowest sea ice levels. Sea ice recovered slightly from that record and in 2017 in September, the annual low was only the eighth lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. But the 10 lowest years of sea ice have been all in the last 11 years. Arctic sea ice is declining at a rate of 13.2 percent per decade, according to NASA.

Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said the Antarctic sea ice pack, less directly influenced by global climate change, varies from year to year. Antarctica hit a record low for sea ice in March 2017, the same month the Arctic hit a record winter low. Antarctic sea ice also reached a record high in 2014.

“Both of the large ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are losing hundreds of billions of tons of ice per year. Sea ice continues to decline significantly in the Arctic decade by decade, and the thickness of Arctic ice is now less than 50 percent of what it was 40 years ago,” National Snow and Ice Data Center scientist Ted Scambos said in an email.

Update February 3, 2018 - February 9, 2018

Melted nuclear fuel seen inside second Fukushima reactor

A photo taken by a robotic probe provided by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, shows a part of what is believed to be the handle of the fuel rods container and melted fuel in small lumps scattered on a structure below the Fukushima reactor core. (International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning via AP)

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo (AP) - The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said Friday that a long telescopic probe successfully captured images of what is most likely melted fuel inside one of its three damaged reactors, providing limited but crucial information for its cleanup.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the fishing rod-like device carrying a camera went deep into the plant’s Unit 2 primary containment vessel. The images indicated that at least part of the fuel had breached the core, falling to the vessel’s floor, TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said.

“There is so much that we still haven’t seen,” Kimoto told reporters. “But we were able to obtain important information that we need in order to determine the right method for removing the melted fuel debris.”

A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 caused three reactors at the Fukushima plant to melt. The plant’s decommissioning is expected to take decades.

Melted fuel has previously only been documented inside Unit 3, where an underwater probe captured images of large amounts of melted fuel debris that looked like molten lava mixed with broken parts of equipment and structures on the concrete floor.

During Friday’s investigation, the device - developed by Toshiba Corp. and the International Research Institute for Decommissioning, a government-funded organization of nuclear companies - found deposits in the shape of pebbles, clay and other forms, Kimoto said.

Determining the location of the melted fuel is crucial in planning for its removal, the hardest process in the plant’s decommissioning.

The government and TEPCO plan to determine the methods and start removing melted fuel from one of the three reactors in 2021. But experts say a lack of data is delaying the development of the precise type of technology and robots.

The images from Friday’s probe show was what is believed to be a stainless steel handle of a case containing bundles of fuel rods sitting on a pile of pebble-shaped and clayish substances, in a sign the rods melted and breached the bottom of the core. The deposits seemed to be scattered in a wide area around the pedestal, the main structure that sits underneath the core.

Experts say they believe part of the fuel still remains inside the core of the Unit 2 reactor, while almost all of the fuel rods in Unit 1 and 3 melted and fell to the bottom of the primary containment chambers.



Back to Main Page

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Heavy rain unearths ancient graves in backyard in Gaza

Climate change diet: Arctic sea ice thins, so do polar bears

Recording-setting spacewalk ends with antenna in wrong spot

AP Fact Check: Data melt Trump’s cooling, ice claims

Melted nuclear fuel seen inside second Fukushima reactor


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