Among the Inuit Nunangat communities in far northern Canada, there's a saying: If you smack the ice with your harpoon and it doesn't go through on the first hit, it's thick enough to walk on. If you can hit it three times without it breaking, it's good for snowmobiles. And if you can hit it five times, it can support anything.
This valuable advice has kept generations of Inuit hunters safe as they navigate the frozen sea in search of whales, seals, fish and birds. But as climate change disrupts the rhythms of life in the Arctic, it's becoming increasingly difficult to apply traditional knowledge to the sea ice, weather patterns and the seasons. The Arctic as a whole is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and scientists estimate that Arctic summer sea ice could totally disappear by the year 2040.
With old knowledge faltering as the environment becomes unpredictable, people living in the far North are increasingly having to seek new methods to keep alive their cultural practices and methods of subsistence living, such as whaling, reindeer herding and ice fishing. Often this means turning to technology -- sensors that show when the ice is safe to cross, GPS collars for tracking reindeer and bespoke social tools to share knowledge between communities.
As biomedical scientists continue to battle the deadly pandemic this year to help the world return to normalcy, researchers across the disciplines still aim to hit big milestones or launch new projects despite the challenges brought by COVID-19. European scientists will also have to contend with the aftermath of Brexit. Many U.S. scientists, in contrast, have a more hopeful political outlook, with some likely to play an invigorated role in tackling another global crisis, climate change, after President-elect Joe Biden, who has vowed to make it a top priority, is sworn in this month. In this section, Science’s news staff forecasts areas of research and policy we expect to make headlines this year, from protecting the high seas’ biodiversity to probing how ancient humans interacted.
Since the idea of rewilding took hold, it has generally been seen as a rural pursuit involving withdrawal from farmland so that animals and vegetation can restore their own ecology.
At its most herbivorous, it includes allowing hedgerows or scrub to flourish unchecked. At its most primal, it involves deliberately releasing animals such as beavers or wolves in the belief that the re-entry of a single alpha species brings with it a cascade of ecological benefits.
Either way, rewilding has come to be associated with big acreages, whether that be at Knepp Park in Sussex or at the 18,000-acre Glenfeshie estate in the Cairngorms. The perception is that it is expensive, far away and often inaccessible. It certainly isn’t something that just anyone can do.
But what if the wildest places of all were right under our feet? In the forgotten spaces in our cities, rewilding has always happened naturally, , land falling under stone and resurging again, concrete lids flipped off before submerging once more. In the margins and the demilitarised zones, the abandoned embankments, the bits we don’t want or the lands already contaminated beyond human tolerance, ecology is thriving.
The last known male giant Swinhoe’s softshell turtle is no longer alone on the planet after the discovery of a female of his species in Vietnam.
The female 86kg (13 stone) turtle was found in Dong Mo lake, in Hanoi’s Son Tay district, and captured for genetic testing in October.
DNA tests have now confirmed the animal is a Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, (Rafetus swinhoei), the most endangered turtle in the world.
Another turtle estimated to weigh 130kg was sighted in the lake, and conservationists hope that this could be another male.
The only known male Swinhoe’s softshell turtle is at Suzhou zoo in China. Scientists aim to ensure that the turtles are given the chance to breed and save the species from the brink of extinction.
The animal, known also as the Hoan Kiem turtle or Yangtze giant softshell turtle, has been driven to the brink by hunting for its meat and eggs, as well as by destruction of its habitat.
In 2018, a group of mostly European funders sent shock waves through the world of scientific publishing by proposing an unprecedented rule: The scientists they funded would be required to make journal articles developed with their support immediately free to read when published.
The new requirement, which takes effect starting this month, seeks to upend decades of tradition in scientific publishing, whereby scientists publish their research in journals for free and publishers make money by charging universities and other institutions for subscriptions. Advocates of the new scheme, called Plan S (the “S” stands for the intended “shock” to the status quo), hope to destroy subscription paywalls and speed scientific progress by allowing findings to be shared more freely. It’s part of a larger shift in scientific communication that began more than 20 years ago and has recently picked up steam.
Chemists have made a discovery that supports a surprising new view of how life originated on our planet. They demonstrated that a simple compound called diamidophosphate (DAP), which was plausibly present on Earth before life arose, could have chemically knitted together tiny DNA building blocks called deoxynucleosides into strands of primordial DNA.
Chemists at Scripps Research have made a discovery that supports a surprising new view of how life originated on our planet.
In a study published in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, they demonstrated that a simple compound called diamidophosphate (DAP), which was plausibly present on Earth before life arose, could have chemically knitted together tiny DNA building blocks called deoxynucleosides into strands of primordial DNA.
The finding is the latest in a series of discoveries, over the past several years, pointing to the possibility that DNA and its close chemical cousin RNA arose together as products of similar chemical reactions, and that the first self-replicating molecules -- the first life forms on Earth -- were mixes of the two.
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Not all planets orbit stars. Some zip through our galaxy all on their own. And now astronomers have found the smallest of these rogue planets yet.
The newly discovered wandering world has roughly the mass of Earth. With no sun in its sky, it’s always nighttime on this lonely planet. And that sky is a lot darker and filled with more stars than can be seen from any place on Earth.
“The sky must be marvelous,” says Przemek Mróz. He is an astronomer at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif. He led the team that discovered the planet. But the lack of a sun does come at a cost, he says. “It must be freezing cold, too.”
This drifter joins a small club. Over the last 20 years, astronomers have found fewer than two dozen planets without stars in our galaxy. Most are big balls of gas that are more like Jupiter than Earth. But scientists think these worlds are the tip of an enormous iceberg. In our galaxy alone, there might be billions out there awaiting discovery.
Just two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, the Trump administration is trying to lock-in oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with a hastily scheduled and controversial lease sale.
The event, January 6, marks a major moment in a 40-year fight over whether todevelop the northernmost slice of the refuge's coastal plain, home to migrating caribou, birds and polar bears.
Biden, as well as his pick for Interior Secretary — Rep. Deb Haaland — oppose drilling in the refuge. The hand-off of drilling rights to the highest bidders could make it more difficult to reverse course.
But despite the high stakes, uncertainty looms over how much oil is actually trapped under the million acres of tundra up for leasing, and how much industry interest there is to go find it.
Countries only have only a limited time in which to act if the world is to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Here are five reasons why 2021 could be a crucial year in the fight against global warming.
Covid-19 was the big issue of 2020, there is no question about that.
But I'm hoping that, by the end of 2021, the vaccines will have kicked in and we'll be talking more about climate than the coronavirus.
2021 will certainly be a crunch year for tackling climate change.
Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, told me he thinks it is a "make or break" moment for the issue.
So, in the spirit of New Year's optimism, here's why I believe 2021 could confound the doomsters and see a breakthrough in global ambition on climate.
The work of a number of the UK's leading scientists has been recognised in this year's New Year Honours.
Prof Dieter Helm, chairman of the government's advisory Natural Capital Committee, has received a knighthood.
Marcus Agius, former chairman of the board of trustees at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, becomes a CBE.
Meanwhile, Dr Hermione Cockburn, scientific director of Dynamic Earth, is appointed OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire).
Prof Helm received his knighthood in recognition for his services to "the environment, to energy and utilities policy".
"The recognition of a lifetime of work on public policy is a great honour," Sir Dieter told BBC News.
"Over the last decade I have being working on the 25-year environment plan, which is now being integrated into the Environmental Bill going through Parliament.