World’s oceans continue to warm, despite reduced carbon emissions

Despite reductions in global carbon emissions due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the world’s oceans in 2020 were the warmest in recorded history, according to a new research.

Published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences earlier this week, the study was conducted by 20 scientists from 13 institutes in China, the United States and Italy.

Compared with 2019, the upper 2,000 meters of the Earth’s oceans have absorbed a greater amount of heat, enough to boil 1.3 billion kettles, each containing 1.5 liters of water. The increase in heat within the oceans is responsible for the increasing trend of record-breaking global ocean temperatures, said the research.

Cheng Lijing, lead author of the study and researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said ocean heating is a key indicator for quantifying climate change, since more than 90 percent of global heat ends up in the oceans.

“However, due to the ocean’s delayed response to global warming, the trend of ocean warming will persist for decades at least,” said Cheng, explaining that the world’s ocean temperatures kept rising last year, despite reports that global carbon emissions fell as people stayed indoors due to COVID-19 restrictions

The study also found that over the past eight decades, the world’s oceans have been warmer in each decade than in the previous one. The effects of ocean warming manifest in the form of more typhoons, hurricanes and extreme rainfall.

In addition to ocean temperatures, researchers involved in the study calculated the salinity of ocean water. They found that areas of high salinity had increased in salinity, whereas the opposite was true for areas of lower salinity.

Researchers also shared data recorded by China’s IAP and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the study.

CORONAVIRUS ON ICE CREAM CARTONS

After declaring itself Covid-free last year, China is witnessing another wave of corona cases.

And according to the latest reports, the novel coronavirus was found on an ice cream carton coming in from eastern China. 

The Daqiaodao Food Co, Ltd in Tianjin, adjacent to Beijing, was sealed and its employees were being tested for the coronavirus. But there was no indication that anyone among the employees had contracted the virus. 

The batch contained more than 29,000 cartons and most of it was not yet sold. Only 390 cartons were said to be sold to Tianjin. They are now being tracked and authorities elsewhere were notified of sales to their areas. The government said that they have recalled the cartons from the same batch. 

The ingredients included New Zealand milk powder and whey powder from Ukraine, the government said. 

On Saturday, the Health Commission of China blamed the travellers and imported goods saying they brought the virus from abroad. 

Whereas on Sunday, China reported 109 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, two-thirds of them in a northern province that is close to national capital Beijing, though no deaths have been reported. 

Currently, its death toll stands at 4953 and total cases at 88,227.

China was the first country to report a case of coronavirus in Central Wuhan in late 2019. The pandemic is said to have originated from that very place. 

Earlier this month, a team of WHO scientists travelled to China to discover the origins of the novel coronavirus.

According to reports, the Chinese government has banned the entry of two scientists. The Chinese government is of the view that the disease came from abroad and has highlighted what it says are discoveries of the coronavirus on imported fish and other food. But this theory has been rejected by various economies around the world.  

The WHO team says that the motive behind the investigation is not to blame some but to find the scientific answers. It is about studying an important interface between the human kingdom and the animal kingdom.

The investigation will apparently take months to complete even in the best circumstances. The team must also navigate attempts by China to politicize the inquiry.

The novel coronavirus has killed nearly two million people since the first outbreak first emerged in Wuhan. 

Thousands of mutations in the virus have taken place as it has passed from person to person around the world, but new variants recently detected in Britain and South Africa are seemingly more contagious.

Britain has imposed a lockdown for the third time since the first outbreak in the country. Other countries have also reported cases of the new variant and have imposed a strict check on the people entering the country. Adequate measures are being taken all around the world to control the mutant variant.

Studying Chaos Phenomena With One of the World’s Fastest Cameras

There are things in life that can be predicted reasonably well. The tides rise and fall. The moon waxes and wanes. A billiard ball bounces around a table according to orderly geometry.

And then there are things that defy easy prediction: The hurricane that changes direction without warning. The splashing of water in a fountain. The graceful disorder of branches growing from a tree.

These phenomena and others like them can be described as chaotic systems, and are notable for exhibiting behavior that is predictable at first, but grows increasingly random with time.

Because of the large role that chaotic systems play in the world around us, scientists and mathematicians have long sought to better understand them. Now, Caltech’s Lihong Wang, the Bren Professor in the Andrew and Peggy Cherng department of Medical Engineering, has developed a new tool that might help in this quest.

In the latest issue of Science Advances, Wang describes how he has used an ultrafast camera of his own design that recorded video at one billion frames per second to observe the movement of laser light in a chamber specially designed to induce chaotic reflections.

The camera makes use of a technology called compressed ultrafast photography (CUP), which Wang has demonstrated in other research to be capable of speeds as fast as 70 trillion frames per second. The speed at which a CUP camera takes video makes it capable of seeing light—the fastest thing in the universe—as it travels.

But CUP cameras have another feature that make them uniquely suited for studying chaotic systems. Unlike a traditional camera that shoots one frame of video at a time, a CUP camera essentially shoots all of its frames at once. This allows the camera to capture the entirety of a laser beam’s chaotic path through the chamber all in one go.

That matters because in a chaotic system, the behavior is different every time. If the camera only captured part of the action, the behavior that was not recorded could never be studied, because it would never occur in exactly the same way again. It would be like trying to photograph a bird, but with a camera that can only capture one body part at a time; furthermore, every time the bird landed near you, it would be a different species. Although you could try to assemble all your photos into one composite bird image, that cobbled-together bird would have the beak of a crow, the neck of a stork, the wings of a duck, the tail of a hawk, and the legs of a chicken. Not exactly useful.

Wang says that the ability of his CUP camera to capture the chaotic movement of light may breathe new life into the study of optical chaos, which has applications in physics, communications, and cryptography

Unrivaled View of Brilliant ‘Planetary Nebula’ NGC 2899

Its distinctive butterfly shape is caused by one star interfering with the gas expulsion pattern of another

star at the center of this tie-dye apparition is collapsing, a process scientists have watched and measured for decades. In 2020 astronomers overcame the 3,000 to 6,500 light-years separating us from this celestial beauty, named NGC 2899, for the clearest picture of it yet.

Though the phenomenon is called a planetary nebula, the term is a misnomer. These cosmic clouds appear when a star burns through the hydrogen at its core. The outer layers of the star separate while the center falls inward, transforming into a white dwarf. As it caves, the core generates ultraviolet radiation and six-million six-million-mile-per-hour winds. Clouds of gas, laden with elements ejected by the star through its lifetime, glow under the heat of the radiation and are shoved outward by the winds. In the image of NGC 2899, oxygen (blue) is surrounded by hydrogen (pink).

The expelled gas is normally fairly round, so early astronomers in the 1700s assumed the spectacle came from a planet—hence the phenomenon’s name. Discovered in 1835 by English astronomer John Herschel in the constellation Vela, NGC 2899 looks like a butterfly because it is made of two stars. Scientists think that one of them is collapsing andthat the second is interfering with the normal gas expulsion pattern, creating the symmetrical form of only 10 to 20 percent of planetary nebulae. The spectacular sight will eventually show up closer to home: our own sun should reach this phase of its life span in several billion years.

What is Michigan state’s Flint water crisis?

On Thursday, nine former officials who served the state of Michigan in the US, including the state’s former governor Rick Snyder, were charged in connection with a criminal investigation into the Flint water crisis.

Michigan’s Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L Worth announced that after 12 months of jury proceedings, the nine officials were indicted on a total of 42 counts “related to a series of alleged actions and inactions that created the historic injustice of the Flint Water Crisis”.

“We must remember that the Flint Water Crisis is not some relic of the past. At this very moment, the people of Flint continue to suffer from the categorical failure of public officials at all levels of government, who trampled upon their trust, and evaded accountability for far too long,” Hammoud was quoted as saying in a statement

Former governor Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty. “As Governor of the State of Michigan, a public officer did willfully neglect his mandatory legal duty to protect citizens of this state against disaster and/or emergency,” his indictment mentions.

Snyder, who is a Republican became Michigan’s 48th governor and was sworn in on January 1, 2011. He remained in this position until 2018.

What was the Flint Water Crisis?

The Flint water crisis is an ongoing public health crisis that began in 2014 when the City of Flint in Michigan–which has a population of roughly 100,000–changed its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint river. This switch caused the water distribution pipes to corrode, as a result of which lead and other contaminants were leached into the municipal drinking water.

This led to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria and other health complications in thousands of its residents. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people can get sick from this if they breathe in mist or accidentally swallow bacteria-containing water into the lungs.

While the water supply was switched back in 2015, the damage was long-lasting and many residents of the city continued to suffer.

In January 2016, the state of Michigan declared a state of emergency and in October the same year, residents of the city were advised not to drink the municipal tap water unless it was filtered.

As per an article published in the American Water Works Association (AWWA) in 2016, which described the water crisis, a few weeks after the water source was switched despite warnings and concerns from some officials, residents started complaining about the colour, taste and odor of their drinking water. In May 2014, some residents informed officials that the water was causing rashes, especially in children.

As per a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) conducted by the CDC in May 2016, over 66 percent of the households in the city reported one or more adult members experiencing at least one behavioural health issue “more than usual” and 54 percent of the households reported that at least one child experienced at least one behavioural health issue.

But why was the water source changed?

The AWWA article notes that in order to reduce costs for treated water Flint officials decided to join the newly formed Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) in 2013, which was constructing a pipeline to transmit water from Lake Huron.

In the meantime, the city of Flint had the option to either purchase treated water from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD), which was sourced from Lake Huron or treat water from the Flint river on its own.

After officials failed to strike a short-term agreement with DWSD, Flint officials decided to use water from the Flint river and treat it at the Flint Water Service Center (FWSC). But the water wasn’t treated properly at the FWSC, resulting in lead contamination.

The article also notes that while the Flint river water is difficult to treat, “oversights and missteps” combined with “inherent chemical conditions” set the stage for the water crisis.

A report published in 2017 by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission said that race and racism played a role in causing the water crisis even though both black and white residents were victims. The report is based on the testimony of over 150 residents, community leaders, experts, academics and government officials

We are not suggesting that those making decisions related to this crisis were racists, or meant to treat Flint any differently because it is a community primarily made up by people of color. Rather, the disparate response is the result of systemic racism that was built into the foundation and growth of Flint, its industry and the suburban area surrounding it,” the report said.

”The crisis has been the subject of a film and a documentary film. A 2017 TV film called Flint directed by Bruce Beresford starring Queen Latifah featured her as a woman dealing with the effects that the contaminated water had on her and her family. A documentary on the subject, also titled “Flint”, was released in 2020 and is based on half a decade of research into the crisis and the failure of officials to respond to it.

Why WhatsApp is giving users more time to accept its privacy policy

Accepting that it had led to “confusion” and spawned a lot of “misinformation”, messaging service WhatsApp Saturday announced it will be delaying the implementation of its new privacy policy until May 15. This, the Facebook product hopes, will give users more time to “review the policy at their own pace”.

Why has WhatsApp delayed the implementation of the new privacy policy?

Ever since it announced the new policy in early January, there was confusion over whether this means parent company Facebook, which has been facing some trust deficit globally, will get to access user messages. As this confusion, partly caused by a hard-to-understand privacy policy which chose to not spell out how the changes will play out on ground, gained ground, millions of users across the world chose to look at options, even as WhatsApp gave users the option to accept or leave the service

What happens now?

Nothing really changes in the privacy policy, which WhatsApp later clarified does not change anything when it comes to personal messaging and only impacts some new messaging with businesses. However, now users have till May 15 to read through, internalise and accept the new policy and its changes. Earlier, the deadline was February 8, which had added to the panic among users and fears that something drastic is on the anvil.

WhatsApp has also reiterated in the new post that users have nothing to be worried about. “WhatsApp was built on a simple idea: what you share with your friends and family stays between you. This means we will always protect your personal conversations with end-to-end encryption, so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see these private messages. Which is why we don’t keep logs of who everyone’s messaging or calling. We also can’t see your shared location and we don’t share your contacts with Facebook,” it says.

Will this help WhatsApp end the exodus of users?

To a certain extent, yes. But the damage has been done. What the new privacy policy has done is remind users about the linkages between Facebook and WhatsApp, which many would not have taken seriously so far. With Facebook’s not-so-great record in privacy, users seem to be rethinking if they want to be messaging everybody from their parents to bosses via a service owned by the social network.

Both Signal and Telegram have benefited from this exodus, so much so that both services seem to be struggling to handle the influx of new users — Signal services were disrupted on Friday. What could come to WhatsApp’s advantage in the long run is the network effect, which will gradually sink in as users realise that those who they want to chat with have not moved along with them to the same alternative option. And this could be what WhatsApp might be hoping from with the delayed adoption of the privacy policy.

Wind turbine maker Vestas halts batch of V150s after Sweden collapse probe

Vestas has temporarily taken around 150 of its V150 machines out of service “in an abundance of caution” after identifying a blade fault as the cause of a turbine collapse in Sweden late last year.

A investigation into the V150 4.2MW collapse at the Aldermyrberget wind farm found a bonding failure on blade-root inserts due to a manufacturing issue at a single supplier, confirmed a spokesman for the Danish wind giant.

Vestas has halted around 150 of the turbines that could potentially be exposed to the same issue, which caused a loose blade to destabilise the Swedish turbine and collapse, he added.

“Vestas is taking this step out of an abundance of caution and is working to put a solution in place to get the turbines safely operating again,” the spokesman told Recharge, adding that the company is liaising with customers over options for repair or replacement.

No other operational turbines have been affected, and the fault is not related to two other V150 blade incidents in the US and Australia last year, said Vestas.

Nobody was hurt in the incident at the Aldermyrberget project, which is owned by Wpd and was ramping up for full commissioning when the turbine collapsed in November.

The V150 has been a huge commercial success for Vestas over the last few years, with thousands of the turbines ordered for deployment in markets around the world as developers move to more powerful machines. The OEM had booked more than 10GW of orders for the V150 4.2MW by mid-2020

Glowing images of fluorescent reptiles recently discovered by scientists in Africa

Astonishing glow-in-the-dark discoveries were recently made in Africa, after scientists recently discovered reptiles that glow in the dark… literally! Namibia’s geckos shine bright under black lights, as stated in a study recently published in Scientific Reports.

According to the report, the stripes and blots on the reptile prevent it from being identified by predators, and keep them singled out from other geckos. A lot of such discoveries have been made recently across the world. In Australia, platypuses with fluorescent markings were discovered. 

Astonishing glow-in-the-dark discoveries were recently made in Africa, after scientists recently discovered reptiles that glow in the dark… literally! Namibia’s geckos shine bright under black lights, as stated in a study recently published in Scientific Reports.

According to the report, the stripes and blots on the reptile prevent it from being identified by predators, and keep them singled out from other geckos. A lot of such discoveries have been made recently across the world. In Australia, platypuses with fluorescent markings were discovered.

The particular species in question have translucent skin, with even their bones glowing under ultraviolet light.

Dr Mark Scherz from Germany’s University Potsdam, part of the Adaptive Genomics Group recently spoke to Live Science about the astonishing discovery, claiming that the colour was shocking to the researchers.

“Actually it turns out quite a few other species, including geckos, have sufficiently transparent skin that their bones’ fluorescence can be seen through it under a sufficiently strong UV light,” Scherz said.

“We have observed in captivity that, although these animals are largely solitary, they do run up to one another to greet each other after a short period of separation,” Scherz added.

 “They also lick condensation from each other’s bodies. So there are lots of reasons that being able to see each other over long distances would be useful for these geckos,” he further said.

Republic Day: No foreign head of state as chief guest, first in 55 years

Due to the prevailing Covid-19 situation, the Centre has decided against having any foreign head of state or government as the chief guest for this year’s Republic Day event on January 26, news agency PTI reported. This is the first time in 55 years that India is not going to have any chief guest for the Republic Day parade.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, “Due to the global Covid-19 situation, it has been decided that this year there will not be any foreign head of state or government as the chief guest for our Republic Day event.”

The central government was thinking on these lines after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi and expressed “regret” that he would not be able to be chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations. Johnson took this decision in view of the fresh national lockdown in the UK due to the new, more contagious mutant strain of the novel coronavirus.

The last time India did not send an invitation to any head of state was in 1966 due to the untimely demise of then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The new government headed by Indira Gandhi was sworn in on January 24, 1966 – only two days ahead of the Republic Day parade.

The Republic Day celebrations have been truncated this year on account of the pandemic. Last year’s Independence Day celebrations had also been scaled down.

An invitation to be chief guest at India’s Republic Day is a special honour for the visiting foreign dignitary. New Delhi has been weaving strategy with hospitality while deciding on the chief guest. The choice is dictated by a number of factors — strategic and diplomatic, business interests, and geo-politics.

Scientists witness the death of a galaxy 9 million light-years away unfold, in a remarkable first

Even though galaxies are known to die out, scientists never could witness the process of a galaxy dying out, until now. Using a high tech telescope, scientists saw the galaxy, ID2299, ejecting out the star forming gases and losing its fuel. As per a press statement, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) spotted the galaxy ejecting nearly half of its star-forming gas. Also, the speed of this ejection was “equivalent to 10,000 Suns-worth of gas a year”. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) was a partner in the observation and the team thinks that this celestial event has been triggered by a collision with another galaxy.

As per the statement, galaxies begin to ‘die’ when they stop forming stars. Now they are getting to actually see how the process takes place. The galaxy is nine billion years away. Hence, what we are seeing now is when the Universe was just 4.5 billion years old.

“This is the first time we have observed a typical massive star-forming galaxy in the distant Universe about to ‘die’ because of a massive cold gas ejection,” said lead researcher Annagrazia Puglisi, who is associated with the Durham University, UK, and the Saclay Nuclear Research Centre, France.

Apart from ejecting out material, the galaxy is also forming stars. The rate of creating stars is very rapid, almost hundreds of times faster than our galaxy, the Milky Way. The result of this fast creation will be that the remaining gas in ID2299 will be consumed gradually, over a few tens of millions of years.

Earlier, it was believed that winds caused by star formation and the activity of black holes at the centres of giant galaxies caused the ejection of star-forming material into space. But the recent case shows that mergers of galaxies can also lead to the shutting down of a galaxy.

“ALMA has shed new light on the mechanisms that can halt the formation of stars in distant galaxies. Witnessing such a massive disruption event adds an important piece to the complex puzzle of galaxy evolution,” said Chiara Circosta, a researcher at the University College London who was part of the research. The study has been published in the journal