MOVE OVER VENICE…
Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Rutgers University have discovered varying rates of land elevation changes in New York City, using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR). The study, published in Science Advances, reveals that parts of the city are sinking due to human activities like land reclamation and natural processes related to ancient glaciations. Subsiding spots include LaGuardia Airport and Arthur Ashe Stadium. On average, the metropolitan area is subsiding by 1.6mm per year, while some areas in Brooklyn and Queens are rising. These elevation changes can influence local flood risks amid global sea level rise due to climate change. Detailed motion maps from this study can aid city planners in formulating flood mitigation strategies, especially in areas with significant infrastructural investments like coastal defenses. The OPERA project will further utilize InSAR data to monitor vertical land motion across North America. (NASA)
MOSQUITOES PUTTING UP A FIGHT.
Around Lake Victoria in Kenya, scientists and volunteers combat the escalating threat of mosquitoes, which are adapting and causing a rise in malaria and other diseases. Despite novel insecticides and innovative delivery methods, mosquitoes are seemingly gaining an upper hand, with increased resistance to treatments used since the 1970s. Climate change facilitates the spread of mosquito-borne viruses like dengue and chikungunya to new regions, causing widespread outbreaks. Mosquito evolution allows them to bypass preventive measures like bed nets and bite outdoors. Efforts to develop new interventions are slowed by regulatory hurdles, funding challenges, and the need for large-scale trials. Meanwhile, some experts advocate for environmental management and improved housing as effective strategies against mosquito proliferation. Although progress is stagnant, promising approaches like spatial repellents are being tested, reflecting the continuous endeavor to curb mosquito-borne diseases and improve public health. (New York Times)
WILDFIRES AFFECTING U.S. WINE PRODUCTION.
The U.S. West Coast, producing over 90% of America’s wine, is grappling with the impacts of wildfires on the wine industry, causing ashy flavors in wines due to smoke penetration. Scientists from Oregon State University, Washington State University, and the University of California, Davis are researching solutions, including developing protective grape coatings and deploying smoke sensors to understand smoke behavior better, supported by millions in U.S. government funding. Wildfires caused billions in losses in 2020, with the ongoing climate crisis escalating risks. Scientists are pinpointing compounds like thiophenols causing unpleasant tastes in smoke-affected wines and exploring remedies. Efforts include spraying clays on grapes to absorb smoke and developing rapid testing for potential smoke-impacted wines. The industry is experimenting with blending and treatment methods to mitigate smoke impacts, aiming to protect the high-value crop and the reputation of the winemakers in the region. (Associated Press)
SCIENTISTS BEHAVING BADLY.
Ranga Dias of the University of Rochester is facing a potential third retraction of a paper amid allegations of scientific misconduct. The paper claimed the discovery of the first room-temperature superconductor, garnering interest due to its potential applications. However, Nature has attached a warning to the paper, and eight co-authors have requested its retraction due to concerns about data reliability and treatment of co-authors. The retraction would follow two previous ones concerning superconductivity claims by Dias’s teams. A long-time collaborator, Ashkan Salamat, is also under scrutiny, having provided potentially false raw data. Additionally, Dias, accused of plagiarism regarding his Ph.D. thesis, is under investigation, with external experts probing data integrity across several papers. Meanwhile, Dias, asserting the integrity of his data, has sent cease-and-desist letters to critics, and the university has possibly curtailed his teaching and supervisory roles pending investigation. (Science)
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DIVERSITY NO MORE.
Several academic institutions in the U.S. are abandoning diversity statements in hiring processes, drawing concerns about the potential marginalization of under-represented groups. Diversity statements allow applicants to elaborate on their experiences with and contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Critics argue these statements propagate divisions and undermine national unity. Since 2022, 40 bills across 22 states have aimed to ban considerations of race or ethnicity in hiring and other DEI initiatives; seven have become law. Many educators oppose these restrictions, fearing the adverse impact on academia’s inclusive environment and the potential exodus of faculty members seeking more inclusive states. In contrast, some argue that while diversity statements were crucial in the 2010s, educators today are more adept at addressing inequities, even in the absence of official policies. Historically Black colleges are seeing a surge in applications as students seek more inclusive environments. (Nature)
6-MILLION-YEAR OLD DNA.
Scientists have found remnants of DNA in a 6-million-year-old fossil of a sea turtle, related to today’s Kemp’s ridley and olive ridley turtles, unearthed in Panama in 2015. This marks one of the rare instances where genetic material has been identified in such ancient vertebrate fossils. The remnants were located in the osteocytes of the partial fossil. Edwin Cadena, the study’s lead author, clarified that while DNA traces were recognized, no DNA was extracted. This discovery is significant as DNA is typically perishable and has only been found in a few ancient remains under specific conditions. The oldest vertebrates previously found with similar remnants were two dinosaurs, dating back 66 and 78 million years respectively. The find aids understanding of the evolutionary history of the genus Lepidochelys, providing insights that could potentially contribute to broader molecular evolutionary studies in the future. (Reuters)
SAVING OUR LEGACY.
Ground-penetrating radar and other electromagnetic tools are revolutionizing archaeology by allowing researchers to map ancient sites and landscapes quickly and non-invasively. Stefano Campana has used this technology to scan the historic city of Siena, Italy for buried artifacts and architecture. Meanwhile, Immo Trinks and colleagues are advocating for large-scale scanning of the entirety of Europe to document archaeological sites before they are destroyed by development. Though powerful, these tools have limitations – radar can miss objects or be misinterpreted. Critics like Lawrence Conyers warn that focus on technology shouldn’t overshadow rigorous analysis. Still, these non-invasive methods help uncover forgotten histories and democratize archaeology by mapping ancient sites beyond buildings of the elite. The earth becomes an archive of human civilization viewable through geophysical data. (Wired)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Nout Gons.