Construction on Stonehenge probably began about 3,000BC

Stonehenge: DNA reveals origin of builders

The ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge travelled west across the Mediterranean before reaching Britain, a study has shown.

Researchers in London compared DNA extracted from Neolithic human remains found in Britain with that of people alive at the same time in Europe.

The Neolithic inhabitants appear to have travelled from Anatolia (modern Turkey) to Iberia before winding their way north.

They reached Britain in about 4,000BC.

Details have been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The migration to Britain was just one part of a general, massive expansion of people out of Anatolia in 6,000BC that introduced farming to Europe.

Before that, Europe was populated by small, travelling groups which hunted animals and gathered wild plants and shellfish.

One group of early farmers followed the river Danube up into Central Europe, but another group travelled west across the Mediterranean.

DNA reveals that Neolithic Britons were largely descended from groups who took the Mediterranean route, either hugging the coast or hopping from island-to-island on boats.

Whitehawk Woman
A facial reconstruction of Whitehawk Woman, a 5,600-year-old Neolithic woman from Sussex. The reconstruction is on show at the Royal Pavilion & Museum in Brighton

When the researchers analysed the DNA of early British farmers, they found they most closely resembled Neolithic people from Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal). These Iberian farmers were descended from people who had journeyed across the Mediterranean.

From Iberia, or somewhere close, the Mediterranean farmers travelled north through France. They might have entered Britain from the west, through Wales or south-west England. Indeed, radiocarbon dates suggest that Neolithic people arrived marginally earlier in the west, but this remains a topic for future work.

In addition to farming, the Neolithic migrants to Britain appear to have introduced the tradition of building monuments using large stones known as megaliths. Stonehenge in Wiltshire was part of this tradition.

Although Britain was inhabited by groups of “western hunter-gatherers” when the farmers arrived in about 4,000BC, DNA shows that the two groups did not mix very much at all.

The British hunter-gatherers were almost completely replaced by the Neolithic farmers, apart from one group in western Scotland, where the Neolithic inhabitants had elevated local ancestry. This could have come down to the farmer groups simply having greater numbers.

“We don’t find any detectable evidence at all for the local British western hunter-gatherer ancestry in the Neolithic farmers after they arrive,” said co-author Dr Tom Booth, a specialist in ancient DNA from the Natural History Museum in London.

“That doesn’t mean they don’t mix at all, it just means that maybe their population sizes were too small to have left any kind of genetic legacy.”

Co-author Professor Mark Thomas, from UCL, said he also favoured “a numbers game explanation”.

Cheddar Man reconstruction
A reconstruction of Cheddar Man. As with other Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, DNA results suggest he had dark skin and blue or green eyes

Professor Thomas said the Neolithic farmers had probably had to adapt their practices to different climatic conditions as they moved across Europe. But by the time they reached Britain they were already “tooled up” and well-prepared for growing crops in a north-west European climate.

The study also analysed DNA from these British hunter-gatherers. One of the skeletons analysed was that of Cheddar Man, whose skeletal remains have been dated to 7,100BC.

He was the subject of a reconstruction unveiled at the Natural History Museum last year. DNA suggests that, like most other European hunter-gatherers of the time, he had dark skin combined with blue eyes.

Genetic analysis shows that the Neolithic farmers, by contrast, were paler-skinned with brown eyes and black or dark-brown hair.

Towards the end of the Neolithic, in about 2,450BC, the descendents of the first farmers were themselves almost entirely replaced when a new population – called the Bell Beaker people – migrated from mainland Europe. So Britain saw two extreme genetic shifts in the space of a few thousand years.

Prof Thomas said that this later event happened after the Neolithic population had been in decline for some time, both in Britain and across Europe. He cautioned against simplistic explanations invoking conflict, and said the shifts ultimately came down to “economic” factors, about which lifestyles were best suited to exploit the landscape.

Dr Booth explained: “It’s difficult to see whether the two [genetic shifts] could have anything in common – they’re two very different kinds of change. There’s speculation that they’re to some extent population collapses. But the reasons suggested for those two collapses are different, so it could just be coincidence.”

LAURENT AUGUSTIN/CNRS The original EPICA project drilled an 800,000-year-old ice core between 1996 and 2005

Climate change: European team to drill for ‘oldest ice’ in Antarctica

An ambitious project to retrieve a continuous record of Earth’s atmosphere and climate stretching back 1.5 million years is officially “go”.

A European consortium will head to Antarctica in December to begin the process of drilling deep into the continent’s eastern ice sheet.

The group’s aim is to pull up a frozen core of material almost 3km long.

Scientists hope this can lead them to an explanation for why Earth’s ice ages flipped in frequency in the deep past.

Although it might seem at first glance to be a rather esoteric quest, researchers say it bears down directly on the question of how much the world is likely to warm in the centuries ahead.

“Something happened about 900,000 years ago. The ice age cycles changed from every 40,000 years or so, to every 100,000 years; and we don’t know why,” Dr Catherine Ritz from the Institute of Environmental Geosciences in Grenoble, France, told BBC News.

“And it’s rather important, because if we want to forecast what will happen to the climate in the future, with the increase in greenhouse gases, then we will have to use models, and these models will be calibrated on what happened in the past.”

Dr Ritz was speaking here at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly, where the site for the new drilling operation was formally announced.

It will be on a high ridge about 40km southwest from the Franco-Italian research station known as Dome Concordia. Already, the spot has been dubbed “Little Dome C”.

Map

Fourteen institutions from 10 countries will participate in what’s referred to as the Beyond-EPICA project.

It will probably take about five years to fully extract the core with at least a further year to examine the ice.

The expected total €30m (£26m) cost will be met out of the European Union’s science budget, Horizon 2020.

Ice bubbles
Each bubble is a little time capsule recording the ancient atmosphere’s contents

How do ice cores record the climate of the past?

The ice in Antarctica is made up of snows that fell on the continent over millions of years.

As this ice was pressed down, it captured bubbles of air. These little gas pockets are a direct snapshot of the atmosphere.

Scientists can read off the levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping components such as methane, for example.

Analysing the atoms in the water-ice molecules encasing the gases also gives an indication of the temperatures that persisted at the time of precipitation.

Currently, the oldest, continuous ice core ever drilled comes from the previous effort at Dome C called the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA).

This ran from 1996 to 2004, and pulled up a 10cm-wide cylinder of ice that was 2,774m long.

Dr Rob Mulvaney: “We need to understand why we’re now living in a 100,000-year world”

What did this previous ice core reveal?

The old EPICA core contained an 800,000-year record of temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide.

These markers were seen to move in lock-step. Whenever the Earth went into an ice age and temperatures fell, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would also decline. And when the climate warmed back up again, the CO2 rose in parallel.

These cycles occurred roughly every 100,000 years in the EPICA core – a phasing that is most likely linked to slight shifts in the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit (a larger or smaller ellipse) around the Sun.

But it is recognised from an alternative record of past climate, which has been deciphered from ocean sediments, that deeper back in time the ice age cycle was much shorter – at about every 41,000 years.

That is a period probably dominated by the way the Earth tilts back and forth on its axis. But why the switch occurred, no-one is really sure.

Past record
The previous ice core showed temperature and carbon dioxide moving in lock-step

What could be the reason for the switch?

The orbital quirks described above change how much of the Sun’s energy reaches the Earth, and it accounts for variations in global temperatures in the order of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But ice ages – from their minimum to their maximum states – involve variations of six degrees. This means there have to have been amplification processes in play.

Differences in the mix and level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will no doubt be a part of the story, and the Beyond-EPICA ice core, if it it can reach back to 1.5 million years ago, will expose this particular contribution. There are certain to be additional factors, however.

“In my personal opinion, the best candidate is an internal mechanism in the climate system which has to do with changes in the ice volume on Earth,” said Prof Olaf Eisen, the Beyond-EPICA project coordinator from Germany’s Alfred-Wegener-Institute.

“If you change ice volume, you also change sea-level and ocean circulation. But something happened in what we call the Middle Pleistocene Transition.

“The drivers behind the MPT are still under debate and touch on the basic understanding of the climate system.”

Survey work included building a radar map of the bedrock under Little Dome C

Has Europe chosen the right location?

Many nations have been searching for a place to drill the oldest ice core, including America, Russia, China, Japan and Australia. Europe’s is the first project to go into the implementation phase.

The site is helped enormously in terms of logistics by being close to an existing research base, but Little Dome C’s selection was only approved after three years of careful survey work.

Teams dragged radar instruments back and forth across the ice to map the layers below. They even sank test boreholes to work out how warm it was likely to be at the base of the ice sheet.

One of the complexities is that heat coming up from the bedrock will melt away the bottom-most and oldest layers of ice. This is a very real danger the deeper the drilling goes, as the coldest temperatures are always found closest to the surface of the ice sheet.

“The core will be in 4m lengths when it comes up,” explained Dr Rob Mulvaney from the British Antarctic Survey. “We’ll cut it into 1m sections at Little Dome C and then move them to Concordia station itself.

“At the station we’ll cut the sections in half, lengthways. One half we’ll leave in Antarctica as a long-term archive (we won’t have to pay freezer costs!), and the other half will come back to Europe for analysis.”

Climate change: European team to drill for 'oldest ice' in Antarctica
their radar survey at Little Dome C, the field team drove 2,500km

Hayabusa-2: Japanese probe likely to have ‘bombed’ an asteroid

The Japanese Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is thought to have detonated an explosive charge on the asteroid it is exploring.

The idea was to create an artificial crater on the object known as Ryugu.

If this is successful – and the early indications are positive – the probe will later return to gather samples from the gouged depression.

Scientists believe these samples could help them better understand how Earth and the other planets were formed in the early Solar System.

Explosion
An apparent spray of debris is captured by the deployed camera

The explosive device, called the Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI), was released from Hayabusa-2 on Friday. The SCI, a 14kg conical container, was packed with plastic explosive intended to punch a 10m-wide hole in the asteroid.

Because of the debris that would have been thrown up in this event, Hayabusa-2 manoeuvred itself before the detonation to the far side of 800m-wide Ryugu – out of harm’s way and out of sight.

But the probe left a small camera behind called DCAM3 to observe the explosion. Images returned to Earth later on Friday appeared to show a spray of debris emerging from the limb of the asteroid, indicating the experiment to excavate a crater very probably worked.

Hayabusa-2 will, in a few weeks, return to the crater to try to collect its pristine samples. Because they will come from within the asteroid, they will not have been exposed to the harsh environment of space.

Bombardment with cosmic radiation over the aeons is thought to alter the surfaces of these planetary building blocks. So, scientists want to get at a fresh sample that hasn’t been changed by this process.

Ryugu belongs to a particularly primitive type of space rock known as a C-type asteroid. It’s a relic left over from the early days of our Solar System, and therefore records the conditions and chemistry of that time – some 4.5 billion years ago.

Short presentational grey line

A video of the SCI being tested on Earth can be seen below:

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Speaking at last month’s 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), project scientist Sei-ichiro Watanabe said the experiment would also “provide us with information of the strength of the surface layer of Ryugu”.

This could help shed light on how the asteroid developed its characteristic “spinning top” shape.

Ryugu
Ryugu has a characteristic “spinning top” shape

Scientific results suggest Ryugu was formed from loose debris that was blasted off a bigger asteroid and then came back together to form a secondary object.

At the LPSC meeting, held in The Woodlands in Texas, Yuichi Tsuda, the mission’s project manager, told me how the team decided where on Ryugu to generate the artificial crater.

“There are two things: the first priority is to make a hole where we can easily identify a crater… so, easy observation, not too hard, not too bumpy,” he said.

“Second, somewhere that’s as feasible as possible in terms of landing… if those two don’t meet together, we go with the first priority.”

Scientists may command Hayabusa-2 to descend into the crater at a later date to collect a pristine sample of rock. But they will only do so if there is no risk of the spacecraft colliding with a boulder.

The awards will be given out in London in May

Michelle Obama book vies with Trump exposé at book awards

This year’s British Book Awards is dominated by two US heavyweights: former First Lady Michelle Obama and President Donald Trump.

Obama’s memoir, Becoming, goes head to head with Michael Wolff’s White House exposé Fire and Fury in the narrative non-fiction category.

There are eight categories from which the book of the year will be chosen, with the winner announced on 13 May.

Obama’s book is also nominated in the audiobook category.

The audiobook shortlist also features Anna Burns’ Milkman, which won last year’s Booker Prize and will also compete for the fiction book prize.

Hilary McKay and The Skylarks' War
Hilary McKay’s The Skylarks’ War won the 2018 Costa children’s book prize

Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, Waterstones’ book of 2018, is also on the fiction shortlist.

Paddington star Ben Whishaw narrates another audiobook nominee, Stephen Hawking’s Brief Answers to the Big Questions.

Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz is up for best debut. It tells the true story of Ludwig ‘Lale’ Eisenberg who had to tattoo serial numbers on the arms of his fellow prisoners.

David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson feature on the children’s book shortlist, as does Tomi Adeyemi for her debut Children of Blood and Bone.

It’s the second nomination for Adeyemi in two days. The US writer was also nominated for Waterstones’ Children’s Book Prize on Thursday.

But there is tough competition from Hilary McKay’s The Skylarks’ War, which won the Costa children’s book prize earlier this year.

The awards, dubbed the Nibbies, are organised by trade magazine The Bookseller. Each of the eight categories has its own judging panel.

A separate panel, whose members include Labour MP Jess Phillips and Sky News’ Kay Burley, will go on to choose the overall book of the year.

If you have a story suggestion email, bbcnewslight@mail.com
Helen, Will and their four housemates took on the challenge

Sustainable students: How easy is it to be more environmentally-friendly?

Student housemates from Loughborough University have been challenged to live more sustainably, with weekly challenges set by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. How did they get on?

Plastics challenge

The students were challenged to reduce their plastic use by 75%, which they found difficult.

“It’s hard when you’re on a student budget, getting anything not wrapped in plastic is so much more expensive,” Amy explained.

Plastics guru Lucy Siegle gave them a helping hand, swapping their countless shower bottles for sustainable versions of shampoo, toothpaste and soap bars.

She also gave them reusable items like coffee cups and cutlery and told them to change their shopping habits.

Amy Fitzgerald and Jay Maheswaran
Amy Fitzgerald and Jay Maheswaran were tasked with reducing their use of plastics

But Amy said they found supermarkets a particular problem as “everything was wrapped in plastic”.

“And going to the butcher’s was more expensive than getting pre-packaged stuff,” she added.

At the start of the week, Ms Siegle weighed the plastic in the students’ home, which totalled 2.8lb (1.3kg) – a figure she described as “rather a lot”.

With her advice, the students reduced it to 1.5lb.

Ms Siegle holding item from fridge
Ms Siegle was not pleased with the house’s reliance on clingfilm, and confiscated their roll

“I’m still really pleased with them,” she said. “Especially as when I saw all the bottles they [initially] had in their bathroom, I nearly gave up.”

Ms Siegle said she thought the group had adopted the mindset shift really quickly, experiencing outrage over everything being plastic.

She urged them to be more militant by unwrapping products at the supermarket checkout and leaving the plastic behind to make the point.

“We need to take a stand,” she said.

Fashion challenge

Marcus Rudd, one of the housemates, had hoped that his shopping habits – buying 10 to 15 T-shirts a year, combined with some designer pieces – were environmentally friendly.

Then he learned that it took 3,000 litres of water on average to make only one T-shirt.

The fashion industry – which makes 100 billion garments each year – is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, water pollution, air pollution and the overuse of water.

Marcus in a vintage shop jacket
Marcus was won over by charity and vintage shops, picking out this striking jacket

It is exacerbated, MPs say, by so-called “fast fashion” – inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers.

Sustainable stylist Alice Wilby taught the students to reuse, repair and recycle, encouraging them to swap fast fashion for second-hand.

She challenged Marcus and his housemate Goby Chan, who regularly buys clothes she does not wear, to make a new outfit from old clothes to model at London Fashion Week.

“We buy so much stuff and half of it sits unworn in the back of the wardrobe,” Ms Wilby said.

“Before we buy anything else it’s great to see what you’ve already got, and fall back in love with your things.”

Marcus, Goby and Alice at the Mother of Pearl show
Marcus and Goby modelled recycled clothes for a Mother of Pearl show at London Fashion Week

Goby enjoyed the challenge. “I was shocked by what you can do by reusing a garment and making it into something new which is actually really fashionable. I actually love it.”

And Ms Wilby said they did well.

“Considering Marcus had never set foot in a second-hand shop before – and thought they were smelly places with clothes you would never want to buy – by the end of the week he was finding pieces he really loved. That was a really great victory.

“These two shop a lot, and over the past month [since the challenge] he has only bought one item.”

Energy challenge

The students took dramatic action to reduce their energy usage – and it worked.

They used much less heating – switching it off at night; wearing jumpers, coats and blankets; and generally keeping the house a little bit cooler.

It made a huge difference to their gas usage – cutting it by a whopping 48%.

They also lowered their electricity usage by 15%. This added up to a 44% carbon saving – around a tonne of carbon in all.

“It was a massive effort – it was freezing in our house,” said Marcus Golby.

The students' house
The students were able to drastically cut their home’s energy bills

“[Before] we weren’t communicating when things were going on and going off, so you ended up with the heating on the majority of the time,” explained Amy.

“This month we’re having more of a balance of keeping warm and keeping the heating off when we’re out.”

Dr Rosie Robison, an energy expert from Anglia Ruskin University, said it raised wider questions on whether the focus should be on individuals using less energy or the “wider responsibilities for landlords or homeowners, housebuilders and government for thinking about how our homes can require less fossil fuel in the first place”.

Food challenge

A third of all food made for human consumption is wasted every year – costing the average UK family £700 each year, estimates suggest.

The students were challenged to cut their food waste by 50% and move to the planetary health diet – a plant-based diet with small amounts of meat and fish.

Dinner time at the house
Helen and Will cooked vegetable bolognese for the house, as part of adopting the planetary health diet for a week

Dr Elliot Woolley, a senior lecturer in sustainable manufacturing at Loughborough University, encouraged them to store their food more carefully to stop it becoming spoiled, plan their meals and prepare the right amount of food for the people eating.

He said that they found the challenge hard, but had reduced their food waste from 8.1lb to 6.8lb, which he described as “a fairly small reduction”.

Food waste
The contents of the students’ food waste bin, before the challenge

Dr Woolley added: “One of the things it shows is even when you’re aware of the problem and you’re trying to reduce waste, it’s so ingrained into how we waste and use food that actually we continue with these large amounts.”

Housemate Will Smith said their waste totals were boosted by food bought before the challenge which had started to go off, but admitted: “I don’t think we did too well.”

But he said it had changed his mindset and he would continue trying not to waste food in future.

The Sustainable Students series was produced and directed by Owen Kean and Tom Yeates, with research by Curtis Gallant and Simon O’Leary.

FRANK BIENEWALD Most of the dead bodies of mountaineers have appeared on the Khumbu Glacier

Mount Everest: Melting glaciers expose dead bodies

Expedition operators are concerned at the number of climbers’ bodies that are becoming exposed on Mount Everest as its glaciers melt.

Nearly 300 mountaineers have died on the peak since the first ascent attempt and two-thirds of bodies are thought still to be buried in the snow and ice.

Bodies are being removed on the Chinese side of the mountain, to the north, as the spring climbing season starts.

More than 4,800 climbers have scaled the highest peak on Earth.

“Because of global warming, the ice sheet and glaciers are fast melting and the dead bodies that remained buried all these years are now becoming exposed,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of Nepal Mountaineering Association.

“We have brought down dead bodies of some mountaineers who died in recent years, but the old ones that remained buried are now coming out.”

And a government officer who worked as a liaison officer on Everest added: “I myself have retrieved around 10 dead bodies in recent years from different locations on Everest and clearly more and more of them are emerging now.”

Officials with the Expedition Operators Association of Nepal (EOAN) said they were bringing down all ropes from the higher camps of Everest and Lhotse mountains this climbing season, but dealing with dead bodies was not as easy.

They point at Nepal’s law that requires government agencies’ involvement when dealing with bodies and said that was a challenge.

“This issue needs to be prioritised by both the government and the mountaineering industry,” said Dambar Parajuli, president of EOAN.

“If they can do it on the Tibet side of Everest, we can do it here as well.”

Everest camp Four also known as South Col
Dead bodies are said to be appearing at Camp 4 mainly because of its flat ground

Exposed dead bodies

In 2017, the hand of a dead mountaineer appeared above the ground at Camp 1.

Expedition operators said they deployed professional climbers of the Sherpa community to move the body.

The same year, another body appeared on the surface of the Khumbu Glacier.

Also known as the Khumbu Icefall, this is where most dead bodies have been surfacing in recent years, mountaineers say.

Another place that has been seeing dead bodies becoming exposed is the Camp 4 area, also called South Col, which is relatively flat.

“Hands and legs of dead bodies have appeared at the base camp as well in the last few years,” said an official with a non-government organisation active in the region.

“We have noticed that the ice level at and around the base camp has been going down, and that is why the bodies are becoming exposed.”

A pond on the Khumbu glacier
Scientists have found ponds expanding and joining up on the Khumbu Glacier

Thinning glaciers

Several studies show that glaciers in the Everest region, as in most parts of the Himalayas, are fast melting and thinning.

A study in 2015 revealed that ponds on the Khumbu Glacier – that climbers need to cross to scale the mighty peak – were expanding and joining up because of the accelerated melting.

Nepal’s army drained the Imja Lake near Mount Everest in 2016 after its water from rapid glacial-melt had reached dangerous levels.

Another team of researchers, including members from Leeds and Aberystwyth universities in the UK, last year drilled the Khumbu Glacier and found the ice to be warmer than expected.

The ice recorded a minimum temperature of only −3.3C, with even the coldest ice being a full 2C warmer than the mean annual air temperature.

Not all dead bodies emerging from under the ice, however, are because of rapid glacial meltdown.

Some of them get exposed also because of the movement of the Khumbu Glacier, mountaineers say.

“Because of the movement of the Khumbu Glacier, we do get to see dead bodies from time to time,” said Tshering Pandey Bhote, vice president of Nepal National Mountain Guides Association.

“But most climbers are mentally prepared to come across such a sight.”

Body of Japanese climber brought down by helicopter from higher camp of Everest
Most of the dead bodies brought down relate to recent incidents on the mountains

Dead bodies as ‘landmarks’

Some of the dead bodies on the higher altitude sectors of Mount Everest have also served as landmarks for mountaineers.

One such waypoint are the “green boots” near the summit.

They’re a reference to a climber who died under an overhanging rock. His green boots, still on his feet, face the climbing route.

Recovering and removing bodies from the higher camps can be both expensive and difficult.

Experts say it costs $40,000 to $80,000 to bring down dead bodies.

“One of the most challenging recoveries was from the height of 8,700m, near the summit,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, the former president of NMA.

“The body was totally frozen and weighed 150kg and it had to be recovered from a difficult place at that altitude.”

Experts say any decision over what to do with a dead body on the mountain is also a very personal issue.

“Most climbers like to be left on the mountains if they died,” said Alan Arnette, a noted mountaineer who also writes on mountaineering.

“So it would be deemed disrespectful to just remove them unless they need to be moved from the climbing route or their families want them.”

SpaceX Dragon capsule docks with space station

BBC Science Correspondent

The demonstration flight of America’s new astronaut capsule has successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS).

The Dragon vehicle, launched by California’s SpaceX company on Saturday, made the attachment autonomously.

It is the latest in a series of tests the capsule must pass in order to get approval from Nasa to transport people.

All this particular mission is carrying is a test dummy and 90kg of supplies.

The docking occurred just before 11:00 GMT, slightly head of schedule.

Watch the Dragon capsule launch to orbit atop a Falcon rocket

The Dragon approached the 400km-high (250 miles) station from the front and used its computers and sensors to guide itself in.

Astronauts aboard the ISS watched closely on HD cameras to make sure the capsule performed as planned, and ready to intervene if it did not.

The capsule advanced on the station slowly, stepping through a series of planned waypoints.

US astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques were overseeing events from the station’s big bay window, or Cupola. They had the facility to command the Dragon to hold, retreat and even abort a docking.

After some rehearsals, the “go” was given to dock.

Attachment was made to a new type of mating adaptor on the ISS’s Harmony module.

Dragon capsule

The procedure is a step up for SpaceX because the cargo ships it normally sends to the lab have to be grappled by a robotic arm and pulled into a berthing position. The freighters do not have the sophistication to dock themselves.

The Dragon capsule is due to stay at the ISS until Friday when it will detach and begin the journey back to Earth.

This is the phase of the mission that SpaceX founder Elon Musk says worries him the most – the fiery, high-speed descent through the atmosphere.

The Dragon’s backshell, or heatshield, has a somewhat irregular shape and that could lead to temperature variations across the base of the capsule at hypersonic speeds.

“It should be fine, but that’ll be a thing to make sure it works on re-entry,” said Mr Musk.

“Everything we know so far is looking positive. Unless something goes wrong I should think we’ll be flying (people) this year; this summer, hopefully.”

SpaceX Dragon capsule docks with space station
Elon Musk with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken who are scheduled to make the first crewed flight

The American space agency wants to contract out crew transport to SpaceX.

Whereas in the past, Nasa engineers would have top-down control of all aspects of vehicle design and the agency would own and operate the hardware – the relationship with industry has been put on a completely new footing.

Today, Nasa sets broad requirements and industry is given plenty of latitude in how it meets those demands.

Agency officials still check off every step, but the approach is regarded as more efficient.

Dragon capsule
Two docking views: What Dragon saw on approach (L) and what the ISS saw (R)

Nasa chief Jim Bridenstine said it was a new era where “we are looking forward to be being one customer, as an agency and as a country.

“We’re looking forward to being one customer of many customers in a robust commercial market place in low-Earth orbit, so we can drive down costs and increase access in ways that historically have not been possible.”

Nasa is also working with Boeing on crew transport. The company has developed a capsule of its own called the Starliner. This will have its equivalent demo flight in the next couple of months.

World's biggest bee found alive

World’s biggest bee found alive

A single female Wallace’s giant bee was found

The world’s biggest bee has been re-discovered, after decades thought lost to science.

The giant bee – which is as long as an adult’s thumb – was found on a little-explored Indonesian island.

After days of searching, wildlife experts found a single live female, which they photographed and filmed.

Known as Wallace’s giant bee, the insect is named after the British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace, who described it in 1858.

Scientists found several specimens in 1981, but it has not been seen since.

In January, a team followed in Wallace’s footsteps on a journey through Indonesia in an attempt to find and photograph the bee.

Size comparison of Wallace's giant bee and a European honeybee
Eli Wyman with one of the few known Wallace's giant bee samples

Eli Wyman with one of the few known Wallace’s giant bee samples

“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore, to have real proof right there in front of us in the wild,” said natural history photographer, Clay Bolt, who took the first photos and video of the species alive.

“To actually see how beautiful and big the species is in life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible. “


Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto)

  • With an estimated wingspan of two-and-a-half inches (6 cm), Wallace’s giant bee is the world’s largest bee
  • The female makes her nest in termite mounds, using her large jaw to collect sticky tree resin to line the nest and protect it from invading termites
  • The species depends on primary lowland forest for resin and the nests of tree-dwelling termites
  • Wallace, who co-developed the theory of evolution with Charles Darwin, described the bee as, “a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle”.

The discovery, in the Indonesian islands known as the North Moluccas, raises hopes that the region’s forests still harbour one of the rarest and most sought after insects in the world.

There are currently no legal protections around its trade.

Trip member and bee expert Eli Wyman, an entomologist at Princeton University, said he hoped the rediscovery would spark future research towards a deeper understanding of the life history of the bee and inform any future efforts to protect it from extinction.

Environmental group, Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), which has launched a worldwide hunt for “lost species”, supported the trip.

“By making the bee a world-famous flagship for conservation, we are confident that the species has a brighter future than if we just let it quietly be collected into oblivion,” said Robin Moore.

In January, the group announced they had found more rare Bolivian frogs belonging to a species thought to be down to one male.

Call to ban killer robots in wars”:

This is not about terminator robots but “conventional weapons systems with autonomy”

A group of scientists has called for a ban on the development of weapons controlled by artificial intelligence (AI).

It says that autonomous weapons may malfunction in unpredictable ways and kill innocent people.

Ethics experts also argue that it is a moral step too far for AI systems to kill without any human intervention.

The comments were made at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetingin Washington DC.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is one of the 89 non-governmental organisations from 50 countries that have formed the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, to press for an international treaty.

Among those leading efforts for the worldwide ban is HRW’s Mary Wareham.

“We are not talking about walking, talking terminator robots that are about to take over the world; what we are concerned about is much more imminent: conventional weapons systems with autonomy,” she told BBC News.

“They are beginning to creep in. Drones are the obvious example, but there are also military aircraft that take off, fly and land on their own; robotic sentries that can identify movement. These are precursors to autonomous weapons.”

Ryan Gariepy, chief technological officer at Clearpath Robotics, backs the ban proposal.

His company takes military contracts, but it has denounced AI systems for warfare and stated that it would not develop them.

“When they fail, they fail in unpredictable ways,” he told BBC News.

“As advanced as we are, the state of AI is really limited by image recognition. It is good but does not have the detail or context to be judge, jury and executioner on a battlefield.

“An autonomous system cannot make a decision to kill or not to kill in a vacuum. The de-facto decision has been made thousands of miles away by developers, programmers and scientists who have no conception of the situation the weapon is deployed in.”

According to Peter Asaro, of the New School in New York, such a scenario raises issues of legal liability if the system makes an unlawful killing.

“The delegation of authority to kill to a machine is not justified and a violation of human rights because machines are not moral agents and so cannot be responsible for making decisions of life and death.

“So it may well be that the people who made the autonomous weapon are responsible.”

Follow Pallab on Twitter

Pangolins: Rare insight into world’s most trafficked mammal”:

A study is being conducted by conservationists from Chester Zoo

The secret life of the world’s most trafficked mammal, the pangolin, has been caught on camera in Africa.

Footage gives a rare insight into the behaviour of the giant pangolin, the largest of all the scaly animals.

Observed by remote-operated cameras, a baby takes a ride on its mother’s back, while an adult climbs a tree.

Scientists are releasing the footage to highlight the plight of the animals, which are being pushed to extinction by illegal hunting for scales and meat.

Large numbers of their scales have been seized this month alone, including Malaysia’s biggest-ever interception of smuggled pangolin products.

The images and video clips of giant pangolins, one of four species in Africa, were taken at Uganda’s Ziwa sanctuary, where the animals live alongside protected rhinos and are safe from poaching.

Stuart Nixon of Chester Zoo’s Africa Field Programme said much of their behaviour has never been recorded before.

“We know so little about this species, almost everything we’re picking up on camera traps this year as a behaviour is a new thing,” he told BBC News.

The giant pangolin: The largest of the eight pangolin species
The giant pangolin: The largest of the eight species
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Pangolins

  • Sometimes called scaly anteaters, they are the only mammals in the world to be covered in protective scales
  • Their scales are made of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails
  • Pangolins lap up ants and termites with their long sticky tongues
  • There are four species in Africa -the African white-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin, ground pangolin and black-bellied pangolin
  • The giant pangolin, found in the rainforests and grasslands of equatorial Africa, is the biggest, measuring up to 1.8m long and weighing up to 75lbs.
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The pangolin is said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world.

Its scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, despite there being no medical benefit for their use, while its meat is considered a delicacy in some countries.

This week, authorities in Malaysia seized more than 27 tonnes of pangolins and their scales – believed to be worth at least £1.6m – on Borneo, in the biggest such haul in the country.

Pangolins are regarded as a delicacy in some countries
They are regarded as a delicacy in some countries

The wildlife monitoring group Traffic said police had discovered two big pangolin-processing facilities stocked with thousands of boxes of meat in the eastern state of Sabah.

“It is hoped that comprehensive investigations can lead to unmasking the syndicate and networks operating from the state and beyond,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Traffic’s director in Southeast Asia.

The discovery comes just days after 10 tonnes of scales were intercepted in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Uganda.

Scientists say the plight of the animals looks bleak, and they have no idea how many are left in the wild.

Pangolin scales intercepted on Borneo
Pangolin scales intercepted on Borneo

Stuart Nixon, who is working in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Rhino Fund Uganda on the project, said they are encountered so rarely in the wild that there is not enough data to allow a decent estimate.

A study is under way to survey and monitor giant pangolins at the site as the first step towards identifying their strongholds.

“This species is literally being wiped out, it’s being obliterated across central Africa, there’s no doubt about that,” he added. “Trying to get people engaged and to care about pangolins is really the key step.”

Sam Mwandha of the Uganda Wildlife Authority added: “These rare glimpses into the lives of giant pangolins are very exciting for those of us dedicated to protecting Uganda’s rich wildlife and challenges us to ensure that we protect and conserve this highly threatened species for future generations.”

Endurance just before it sank: Crushed at the stern, it went down bow first

Endurance: Search for Shackleton’s lost ship begins.”

Antarctic scientists seeking to locate the wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship, the Endurance, have arrived at the search site.

The team broke through thick pack ice on Sunday to reach the vessel’s last known position in the Weddell Sea.

Robotic submersibles will now spend the next few days scouring the ocean floor for the maritime icon.

Shackleton and his crew had to abandon Endurance in 1915 when it was crushed by sea ice and sank in 3,000m of water.

Their escape across the frozen floes on foot and in lifeboats is an extraordinary story that has resonated down through the years – and makes the wooden polar yacht perhaps the most sought-after of all undiscovered wrecks.

The British-led Weddell Sea Expedition has given itself five days to find the sunken remains.

Operating from the South African ice-breaker, the SA Agulhas II, the team’s plan is to put down an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to map the seafloor for anomalies.

A wide box has been designated, and the robot, equipped with side-scan sonar, will run back and forth across this search zone like a lawnmower. Its first dive will last 45 hours.

the SA Agulhas II
The SA Agulhas II will have to keep holes in the sea-ice open to operate the subs

There will be no attempt to retrieve artefacts should the Endurance be found. The intention only is to make a 3D model of the wreck site.

The search will be challenging because of the sea ice at the surface. The Agulhas will have to periodically shift its hull to maintain open holes in the floes, through which to launch and recover AUVs.

Frank Worsley (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, with permission )
Frank Worsley used his sextant to record the position of the sinking

Scientists are extremely confident they are in the right place to find Endurance.

Shackleton’s skipper, Frank Worsely, was a very skilled navigator and used a sextant and chronometer to calculate the precise co-ordinates of the Endurance sinking – 68°39’30.0″ South and 52°26’30.0″ West.

The ship is almost certainly within a few nautical miles of this point – and there is every chance it is in reasonable condition.

The organisms that normally consume sunken wooden vessels do not thrive in the cold waters of the Antarctic, so even though the Endurance was broken when it went down, its timbers are most probably well preserved on the ocean floor.

Map
The Agulhas made good progress to the search site last week after picking up supplies

Just getting to the search site is a remarkable effort. The Agulhas has had to fight its way through ice that has thickened over several years.

Unlike Shackleton, however, the Weddell Sea Expedition team has been assisted by satellite ice charts, which make picking a way through the floes a lot easier.

The significance of the moment was not lost on the expedition’s marine archaeologist, Mensun Bound: “We are the first people here since Shackleton and his men!” he was quoted as saying.

Endurance
If it’s found, no attempt will be made to raise artefacts
A Nasa graphic showing the global temperature anomalies between 2014 and 2018 - higher than the long term trend is shown in red

Climate change: World heading for warmest decade, says Met Office”:

The world is in the middle of what is likely to be the warmest 10 years since records began in 1850, say scientists.

The Met Office is forecasting that temperatures for each of the next five years are likely to be 1C or more above pre-industrial levels.

In the next five years there’s also a chance we’ll see a year in which the average global temperature rise could be greater than 1.5C.

That’s seen as a critical threshold for climate change.

If the data matches the forecast, then the decade from 2014-2023 will be the warmest in more than 150 years of record keeping.

Will the forecast temperature rises bust the Paris climate agreement?

The Met Office says that 2015 was the first year in which the global annual average surface temperature reached 1C above the pre-industrial level, which is generally taken to mean the temperatures between 1850 and 1900.

Each year since then, the global average has hovered close to or above the 1C mark. Now, the Met Office says that trend is likely to continue or increase over the next five years.

Warmest decade infographic

“We’ve just made this year’s forecasts and they go out to 2023 and what they suggest is rapid warming globally,” Prof Adam Scaife, head of long term forecasting at the Met Office, told BBC News.

“By looking at individual years in that forecast we can now see for the first time, there is a risk of a temporary, and I repeat temporary, exceedance of the all-important 1.5C threshold level set out in the Paris climate agreement.”

Last October, UN scientists published a special report on the long-term impacts of a temperature rise of 1.5C.

They concluded that it would take a massive carbon cutting effort to keep the world from tipping over the limit by 2030. The Met Office analysis now says there’s a 10% chance of this happening within the next five years.

“It’s the first time the forecasts have shown a significant risk of exceedance – it is only temporary. We are talking about individual years fluctuating above the 1.5 degree level,” said Prof Scaife.

“But the fact that that can happen now due to a combination of general warming and the fluctuations due to things like El Niño events in the next few years does mean we are getting close to that threshold.”

Met office graphic
Temperature data for the five major global climate databases

How confident is the Met Office of its prediction?

The Met Office says it has a 90% confidence limit in the forecasts for the years ahead.

It says that from 2019 to 2023, we will see temperatures ranging from 1.03C to 1,57C above the 1850-1900 level, with enhanced warming over much of the globe, especially over areas like the Arctic.

The research team says it is pretty certain in its predictions because of its past experience. The team’s previous forecast, made in 2013, predicted the rapid rate of warming that’s been observed over the past five years. It even predicted some of the lesser known details such as the patch of cooling seen in the North Atlantic and the cooler spots in the Southern Ocean.

If the observations over the next five years match the forecasts, then the decade between 2014 and 2023 will be the warmest in more than 150 years of records.

What about other climate agencies?

The Met Office forecast comes as a number of agencies publish their full analysis of temperature data from 2018, showing it to be the fourth warmest since records began in 1850.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has published an analysis of five major international datasets showing that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22.

“Temperatures are only part of the story. Extreme and high impact weather affected many countries and millions of people, with devastating repercussions for economies and ecosystems in 2018,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

hot city

“Many of the extreme weather events are consistent with what we expect from a changing climate. This is a reality we need to face up to. Greenhouse gas emission reduction and climate adaptation measures should be a top global priority,” he said.

Other researchers in the field said the new forecast for the next five years was in line with expectations, given the record level of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere in 2018.

“The forecast from the Met Office is, unfortunately, no surprise,” said Dr Anna Jones, an atmospheric chemist at the British Antarctic Survey.

“Temperatures averaged across the globe are at a record all-time high, and have been for a number of years. They are driven predominantly by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that result from our continued use of fossil fuels.

“Until we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we can expect to see upward trends in global averaged temperatures.”

Spiny dogfish shark landed in Indonesia

Shark on UK plates highlights trade in endangered species…

Meat from endangered sharks is finding its way on to the British menu, according to a study.

DNA tests show that shark products destined for restaurants include two species vulnerable to extinction.

Consumers may be unaware what shark they are eating – and whether it is from a sustainable population, British scientists say.

The UK is playing a continuing role in the “damaging trade in endangered shark species”, they say.

One of the two threatened sharks identified – the scalloped hammerhead – is subject to international restrictions.

University of Exeter researchers say, despite the small number of samples studied, they have demonstrated the sale of threatened sharks, highlighting the global nature of the damaging trade in endangered species.

“The discovery of scalloped hammerheads in shark fins that were destined to be sold in the UK highlights how widespread the sale of these endangered species really is,” Dr Andrew Griffiths told BBC News.

Shark fins
Shark fins: The species is indistinguishable

The research, reported in the journal Scientific Reports , examined both shark fins destined for restaurants and shark steaks sold in fishmongers and chip shops.

It found that Squalus acanthias (spiny dogfish) , a small shark classed vulnerable to extinction, globally – and, for one population in the north-east Atlantic, endangered, was the main shark being sold at chip shops, under the generic name huss, rock, rock salmon or rock eel.

The shark was probably imported from areas where stocks are sustainable, and generic names are permitted – but the scientists say it is difficult for customers to tell exactly what type of shark they are eating and where it comes from.

“It’s almost impossible for consumers to know what they are buying,” said Catherine Hobbs, also of the University of Exeter.

“People might think they’re getting a sustainably sourced product when they’re actually buying a threatened species.”

The scalloped hammerhead shark was identified among 10 shark fins imported for the UK restaurant trade. The fins are often used to make soup, a celebratory dish in some Asian cuisines.

How do we know that sharks are ending up on the British dinner plate?

Once shark meat is processed, it is difficult to tell which species it comes from. Therefore, the scientists carried out DNA tests to see what was entering the human food chain.

They gathered more than 100 samples from chip shops and supermarkets in southern England. They also looked at dried shark fins imported into the UK.

A type of DNA analysis, known as DNA bar-coding, gave an insight into the shark species on sale.

A fragment of DNA can be matched with an online database known as the bar-code of life to identify the animal.

What did the study find?

Of the 78 samples on sale at chips shops in 2016 and 2017, about 90% came from the spiny dogfish.

Landing this shark is generally not permitted under EU rules, although that on sale was probably sourced from more sustainable stocks elsewhere, then imported and frozen, the scientists say.

The spiny dogfish
The spiny dogfish is at threat due to overfishing

Of the 39 fresh and frozen samples obtained from fishmongers, about half were assigned toMustelus asterias (starry smooth hound) , a type of hound-shark. This shark is judged of least concern in terms of extinction risk.

The Sphyrna lewini (scalloped hammerhead)was found in three of 10 dried shark fins on sale in the UK. These may have been imported and stored before international restrictions came into force in 2014.

This shark, which is not found in UK waters, is targeted for its fins and is in decline.

Where is shark meat eaten?

Shark meat is eaten across the world and has been part of the human diet for centuries.

But between 2000 and 2011, global imports of sharks, skates, rays and other cartilaginous fishes rose by 42%, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The international trade in 12 species is regulated because of concern over extinction risks.

But there is debate among scientists over which – if any – sharks can be regarded as sustainable and harvested for food.

“Sharks are inherently more vulnerable to overfishing because they don’t produce many eggs and they take a long time to reach maturity – to be able to produce offspring,” said Dr Griffiths.

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman are both nominated for The Favourite

Oscars 2019: The Favourite and Roma lead nominations

By mr ben rory

Olivia Colman’s period comedy-drama The Favourite and Netflix’s black-and-white epic Roma lead this year’s Oscar race, with 10 nominations each.

The other contenders include A Star Is Born andVice with eight each, followed by Black Pantherwith seven.

Black Panther is the first superhero movie to be nominated for best picture.

Colman is among the British acting nominees, alongside her co-star Rachel Weisz andChristian Bale for Vice.

Black Panther
Black Panther’s nominations include best picture, best song and best costume design

Films with the most nominations:

  • 10 – The Favourite, Roma
  • 8 – A Star Is Born, Vice
  • 7 – Black Panther
  • 6 – BlacKkKlansman
  • 5 – Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book
  • 4 – First Man, Mary Poppins Returns
Yalitza Aparicio in Roma
Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio is up for best actress for playing a Mexican maid in Roma

Colman’s strongest competition in the best actress category is likely to come from Glenn Close , who is odds-on favourite to win her first Academy Award for The Wife after six previous nominations, according to bookmakers,

Yalitza Aparicio is nominated for her first screen role, as the Mexican maid in Roma. The film has also given Netflix its first ever best picture nomination.

The best actress category also includes Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me? andLady Gaga for A Star Is Born.

Gaga’s co-star Bradley Cooper is nominated in the best actor category, but the frontrunners for that statuette are two men who earned acclaim for portraying real-life public figures.

Rami Malek won rave reviews for playing Queen singer Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody , while Bale transformed into former US Vice-President Dick Cheney with the help of prosthetics in Vice.

Richard E Grant and Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Richard E Grant stars with Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Richard E Grant has received his first ever Oscar nomination, for best supporting actor for his role in the film Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The Withnail & I star was among the first 2019 nominees to be announced, alongsideMahershala Ali Adam Driver Sam Elliott andSam Rockwell .

Weisz is up for best supporting actress, as areAmy Adams Marina de Tavira Regina Kingand Emma Stone .

The ceremony will take place on 24 February.

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Analysis by BBC Reality Check

It’s been a pretty good year for diversity in Oscar nominations by the standards of the last decade.

Chart showing ethnic diversity in Oscar nominations

In the four acting categories, there were five nominees from ethnic minorities (out of 20 possible nominations) – second only to the seven nominees in 2017.

There are also two best director nominees from ethnic minorities in Spike Lee and Alfonso Cuaron, the first time that has happened since 2014.

But still no sign of gender balance in the directing category – all five nominees this year are men.

There have only been two female nominees for best director in the last decade: Greta Gerwig, for Lady Bird last year, and Kathryn Bigelow, who won the Oscar for the Hurt Locker in 2010.

Golden Globes 2019: Red carpet in pictures

Science and Environment

Stars of film and TV gathered in Los Angeles on Sunday night for the 76th annual Golden Globes – the first major ceremony of the 2019 awards season.

Here are some of the best photos from the red carpet.

Phoebe Waller Bridge, Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer
GETTY IMAGES Be afraid. In fact, be terrified. Jodie Comer (right), who plays ruthless assassin Villanelle in TV drama Killing Eve, poses with her co-star Sandra Oh (centre) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge,  who adapted the series for the small screen
GETTY IMAGESAndy Samberg and Joanna Newsom
Sandra Oh is co-hosting the ceremony with Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Andy Samberg, who arrived on the red carpet with wife Joanna Newsom
GETTY IMAGESLady Gaga
Lady Gaga, who is the favourite to take home best actress (drama) for A Star Is Born, wore a lavender strapless gown with voluminous sleeves
GETTY IMAGESNicholas Hoult and Olivia Colman
The Favourite stars Nicholas Hoult and Olivia Colman appeared together on the red carpet. Appropriately, Colman is one of the favourites to take home an acting prize tonight
GETTY IMAGESJamie Lee Curtis
Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis broke box office records this year, scoring the biggest opening weekend ever for a film with a female lead actress over 55
GETTY IMAGESMolly Sims, Darren Criss and Heidi Klum
Florals were a popular choice on the red carpet – and not just with the women. Left-right: Molly Sims, Darren Criss and Heidi Klum
GETTY IMAGESGolden Globe ambassador Isan Elba (R), actor Idris Elba and his fiance Sabrina Dhowre
Idris Elba (centre) with his daughter Isan (right), one of this year’s Golden Globe ambassadors, and his fiance Sabrina Dhowre
GETTY IMAGESEmily Blunt, Glenn Close, Janelle Monae, Penelope Cruz
Left-right: Emily Blunt, Glenn Close, Janelle Monae and Penelope Cruz
GETTY IMAGESJameela Jamil
Jameela Jamil, the British star of The Good Place, looks glamorous on the red carpet, right? You’d never know she was wearing jeans under her dress to protect herself from the cold weather, as she revealed in a video posted on social media en route to the ceremony
JON KOPALOFFRosamund Pike
Among the British nominees is Rosamund Pike, who’s nominated for her portrayal of journalist Marie Colvin in A Private War
GETTY IMAGESGemma Chan (left) and Constance Wu
Gemma Chan (left) and Constance Wu appeared in Crazy Rich Asians – one of the biggest box office hits of the last year – which has two nominations
GTEJim Carrey and Ginger Gonzaga
Jim Carrey is nominated for his role in TV comedy Kidding, in which he stars alongside Ginger Gonzaga
GETTY IMAGESRegina King and Amy Adams
Regina King and Amy Adams are up against each other in two different categories – best supporting film actress and best TV limited series actress
FRAZER HARRISONBlack Panther stars Ryan Coogler, Danai Gurira, Michael B. Jordan, and Lupita Nyong'o
Black Panther stars Ryan Coogler, Danai Gurira, Michael B. Jordan, and Lupita Nyong’o
GETTY IMAGESBradley Cooper and Irina Shayk
Bradley Cooper, who directed and appeared in A Star Is Born, made a rare red carpet appearance with his partner, Russian supermodel Irina Shayk
line

Follow us on Facebook , on Twitter@BBCNewsEnts , or on Instagram at bbcnewsents . If you have a story suggestion emailentertainment.news@bbc.co.uk .


 

 

Madagascar pochard: World’s rarest bird gets new home

By Victoria GillScience reporter, BBC News

Science & Environment


Conservationists hope to save a species of duck called the Madagascar pochard from extinction.
Conservationists hope to save a species of duck called the Madagascar pochard from extinction.

The rarest bird in the world – a species of duck called the Madagascar pochard – has been given a new home in time for the new year.

An international team of researchers released 21 of the birds at a lake in the north of Madagascar.

It is a step towards the recovery of a species that just over a decade ago was thought to be extinct.

Rescuing the species could also be a first step in protecting Madagascar’s threatened wetlands .

Why is this species under such threat?

When it wasn’t seen for 15 years, the Madagascar pochard was believed to have been wiped out completely. Then a tiny group of the birds was rediscovered in 2006 at one remote lake.

These were the last 25 Madagascar pochards on the planet.

Pochard in captivity
The captive-bred pochards are now settling in to their new home

Wetland habitats in the country have been so polluted and damaged that these few remaining birds had been forced into this last untouched area.

But, as Rob Shaw, head of conservation programmes at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) explained to BBC News, they were only “clinging on to existence in a place not really suited to them”.

Their last pristine refuge was too deep and too cold for the pochards to thrive.

“The threats that they face across the rest of Madagascar – and why they’ve been wiped out so extensively – are vast,” explained Rob Shaw.

“They range from sedimentation, invasive species, pollution, poor agricultural practises – a whole suite of problems that create the perfect storm making it very difficult for a species like the Madagascar pochard to survive.”

How has the species been rescued?

Madagascar pochard ducklings
Breeding the ducks in captivity has been key

In a painstaking effort – it has taken more than a decade of work. The international team, which included WWT, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Peregrine Fund and the Government of Madagascar, rescued a clutch of pochard eggs and raised them in captivity.

Lake Sofia and floating aviaries (c) WWT
Floating aviaries have been installed at Lake Sofia to protect the ducks

They then scoured Madagascar for the best site to bring the captive-bred birds back to the wild, settling on Lake Sofia in the north of the country.

The team has worked closely with the local communities around the lake that rely on its water, fish and plants, as WWT’s Nigel Jarrett explained: “It takes a village to raise a child, so the old African proverb goes – but in this case it has taken a village to raise a duck. We have been preparing for this moment for over a decade.

“Working with local communities to solve the issues which were driving this bird to extinction has been essential to giving the pochard a chance of survival.”

The team hopes that making this reintroduction a success – and bringing back a bird that was on the very brink of extinction – will provide a powerful example, not just for how to save the most threatened species but how communities can support both people and wildlife in such valuable habitats, even in areas of significant poverty.

Follow Victoria on Twitter

Climate change: Huge costs of warming impacts in 2018

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent.

Science & Environment


heatwave
Heat waves in Europe in 2018 saw big impacts on agriculture

Extreme weather events linked to climate change cost thousands of lives and caused huge damage throughout the world in 2018, say Christian Aid.

The charity’s report identified ten events that cost more than $1bn each, with four costing more than $7bn each.

Scientists have shown that the chances of heat waves in Europe were influenced directly by human-related warming.

Other events, say the authors, are due to shifts in weather patterns, said to be a consequence of climate change.

According to the report the most financially costly disasters linked to rising temperatures were Hurricanes Florence and Michael, with costs said to be around $17bn for the former, and $15bn for the latter.

Research published at the time showed that the rains accompanying Hurricane Florence were made 50% worse than they would have been without human influenced warming.

With Hurricane Michael, experts say that human activities drove the emissions that made the water warmer, adding fuel and speed to the storm.

In Japan, 2018 was the summer of extremes with flooding and heatwaves causing huge impacts.

floods
Flooding persisted for weeks after Hurricane Florence hit South Carolina

The floods killed at least 230 people and caused $7bn worth of damage, which were then followed by Typhoon Jebi, the most powerful storm to hit the country for 25 years.

Europe also saw record heatwaves – withresearchers showing that climate change likely doubled the chances of the events happening.

separate study from the Met Office looking at the UK suggested that the extreme heat was made 30 times more likely because of rising temperatures.

The Christian Aid study says even where scientists have not done attribution studies linking events to climate change, they believe that warming is driving shifts in weather patterns that make droughts and wildfires more likely.

“Climate change is something still often talked about as a future problem, not least because we know the consequences of the warming climate are so devastating and don’t want to face up to what is already happening,” said Dr Kat Kramer from Christian Aid.

“This report shows that for many people, climate change is having devastating impacts on their lives and livelihoods right now. The great injustice of climate breakdown is that the people that suffer first and worst, are the world’s poor that have done the least to contribute to the crisis.”

The report says that while the headline events had immediate impacts on lives and economies throughout 2018, in many developing countries there are slow-moving disasters connected to climate change such as droughts and sea encroachment that are progressively hitting millions of people.

flames
Wildfires in California were the worst seen in the US in a century

Commenting on the Christian Aid report, Dr Michael Mann from Penn State University said the impacts of climate change were no longer subtle.

“The unprecedented floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires and super storms we’ve seen in recent years – they are the face of climate change. The world’s weather is becoming more extreme before our eyes – the only thing that can stop this destructive trend from escalating is a rapid fall in carbon emissions.”

According to the World Meteorological Organisation’s initial observations, 2018 is likely to be the fourth warmest on record with the Earth’s average temperature hovering close to 1C above the levels recorded in 1850-1900.

Their State of the Climate report , published in November, said that 20 of the warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years.

With a high likelihood of a new El Niño forming early in 2019, the coming 12 months is expected to push the current record close, with the UKMet Office predicting that the global average temperature for 2019 will likely be 1.10C, above the pre-industrial average period from 1850-1900.

Since 1850, 2016 is the warmest year on record with a central estimate of 1.15 °C above the same baseline.

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TrumpGETTY IMAGES
President Trump referred to temperature rises as he announced his intention to pull the US out of the Paris climate pact

President Trump’s announcement a year ago that he was withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement may have been the best and worst thing that could have happened to the deal, at the same tim


e.

“The most important piece of good news, and it wasn’t a foregone conclusion, is that other countries have stayed in and doubled down on their general determination not to walk away, not to let the US ‘cancel’ the agreement,” said former US climate envoy Todd Stern, speaking at a meeting organised by the World Resources Institute in Washington this week.

Read full articleParis climate pullout: The worst is yet to come


Trump team kicks the Clean Power Plan into the long grass

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The Trump White House is determined to revive the fortunes of US coal at all costs

In California and the western US, wildfires made more likely by climate change, continue to rage in the vineyards and forests.

In President Trump’s Washington, a bonfire of climate regulations is also burning brightly.

Read full articleTrump team kicks the Clean Power Plan into the long grass


Hurricanes: A perfect storm of chance and climate change?

Hurricane MariaNASA
The swirling edges of Hurricane Maria seen from space as it slammed into Puerto Rico

The succession of intense and deadly tropical cyclones that have barrelled across the Atlantic in recent weeks have left many people wondering if a threshold of some sort has been crossed. Is this chain of hurricanes evidence of some significant new frontier in our changing climate?

The answer is mostly no, but with worrying undertones of yes.

Read full articleHurricanes: A perfect storm of chance and climate change?


Hurricane Harvey: The link to climate change

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The intensity of rain in the Houston area is being linked to rising global temperatures

When it comes to the causes of Hurricane Harvey, climate change is not a smoking gun.

However, there are a few spent cartridge cases marked global warming in the immediate vicinity.

Read full articleHurricane Harvey: The link to climate change


The world’s not laughing, Donald, it’s crying

Donald TrumpEPA
President Trump went on the attack over what he sees as a bad deal for the US

President Trump’s statement is a very clear repudiation of the Paris climate agreement and international efforts to fund climate mitigation and adaptation in poorer countries.

In many ways it is far worse than many observers had expected.

Read full articleThe world’s not laughing, Donald, it’s crying


Fragile future for US nuclear power

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The Three Mile Island nuclear installation is set to close 40 years after a partial meltdown

No one died, there were no direct health impacts, but the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident burned so deeply into the US psyche that it has helped limit the future use of the power source across America.

A major factor in turning the accident into a “disaster” was timing. Just 12 days before the 1979 accident that saw a partial core meltdown at one of the two reactors at the Pennsylvania plant, The China Syndrome was released in cinemas across the US.

Read full articleFragile future for US nuclear power

Don’t tell the President: US team lauded at climate talks

Donald TrumpEPA

Assailed by “enemies” on all sides, the most “unfairly” treated politician in the history of ever has at least had the consolation of knowing that his emissaries to the latest UN climate talks just finished in Bonn have followed his dictum to the letter. Or have they?

The new White House, in case you missed it, takes a very different view on climate change to a majority of countries in the world.

Read full articleDon’t tell the President: US team lauded at climate talks

SOS Ivanka! Can ‘first daughter’ save Paris climate deal?

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UN climate negotiators hope Ivanka Trump will heed their pleas on the Paris climate accord

Among the diplomats meeting here in Bonn, there’s a recognition that the person who’s really key to the future progress of climate talks is not in Germany but in the White House some 6,500km (4,000 miles) away.

It’s not you Mr Trump, it’s your official first daughter!

Read full articleSOS Ivanka! Can ‘first daughter’ save Paris climate deal?

Trump makes major change to US climate change narrative

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Coal fired power plants like this one faced restrictions under President Obama

“This is, I think, one of the most historic attacks on climate and environmental action that the US has ever seen,” said Liz Perera from the Sierra Club.

Her words are certain to cheer Trump supporters everywhere.

Read full articleTrump makes major change to US climate change narrative

Groundhog day for a keystone cop-out?

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Sections of the pipeline prepared but not yet used for Keystone XL

According to Donald Trump, the Keystone XL will be an “incredible pipeline”, but could it be that the official signing of the permit in the Oval Office will be the high point for this long-winded process?

Let’s look at some of the issues that might see TransCanada, the company behind the project, eventually walk away.

Read full articleGroundhog day for a keystone cop-out?

Trump’s ‘drain the swamp’ budget to hit swamp dwellers

mangrove
WORLD NEIGHBORS
Members of the local community have planted thousands of mangrove trees to help fight rising tides

“We’re not spending money on climate change any more,” said Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director.

“We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”

Read full articleTrump’s ‘drain the swamp’ budget to hit swamp dwellers

Oil change? Fossil fuel advocate to run State department

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Rex Tillerson is set to become Secretary of State in the Trump administration

Good news for environmental campaigners: President-elect Trump has finally nominated someone to his cabinet who actually believes in climate change science.

The bad news for those same campaigners is that this true believer happens to be CEO of Exxon Mobil, and also sees fossil fuels as critical to humanity’s survival.

Read full articleOil change? Fossil fuel advocate to run State department

Trump nominee to rekindle climate battle?

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Oklahoma’s attorney general Scott Pruitt has been nominated to head the EPA

The nomination of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to be the next head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has two important ramifications.

The first is a clear signal from the incoming Trump administration that environmental regulations, especially as they apply to the production of energy, are set for fundamental reform.

Read full articleTrump nominee to rekindle climate battle?

Trump: The best thing ever for climate change?

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On the campaign trail Mr Trump repeatedly called for the renegotiation of the Paris Climate Agreement

Since the US election result, there has been consternation among climate campaigners and many environment ministers, especially those attending the annual Conference of the Parties(COP) in Marrakech.

The fear, and fury of the green response to Donald Trump is understandable.

Read full articleTrump: The best thing ever for climate change?

The environmental costs of Heathrow expansion

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There are environmental concerns about noise, air pollution and climate change

Significant questions about the environmental impacts of Heathrow’s new runway remain unanswered in the wake of the government’s announcement.

Opponents say that the expansion will make air quality and noise pollution much worse.

Read full articleThe environmental costs of Heathrow expansion

Are celebs the best hope for saving endangered species?

celebritiesWILDAID
Image captionCan the influence of celebrities really achieve a breakthrough in reducing demand for endangered species?

As the Cites meeting in Johannesburg ends, Matt McGrath asks whether celebrities are having a bigger impact on saving species than the international body tasked with regulating the trade in threatened animals and plants.

The poor old peregrine falcon must feel like a total loser at this point.

Read full articleAre celebs the best hope for saving endangered species?

CITES species meeting: ‘The only game in town’

Nile crocodilePASCAL GOETGHELUCK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Poster boy: Between the 1940s and 1970s, the Nile crocodile suffered from over-zealous hunting

A big hand for the Nile Crocodile, the poster animal for the argument that regulated international trade can save endangered species.

Though perhaps a gentle round of applause from a suitable distance might be a tad more appropriate.

Read full articleCITES species meeting: ‘The only game in town’

Exxon: An inconvenient truth

Exxon
An ice sculpture suggests Exxon knew about the science of climate change but failed to act

In the hot and humid conditions of downtown Dallas, the #Exxonknew ice sculpture – erected by environmental campaigners to suggest the company had known about the science of climate change but had failed to act – did not last too long.

And the activists were hoping the same thing would happen to Exxon, a company that has fended off efforts to make it toe the line on climate change for a quarter of a century.

Read full articleExxon: An inconvenient truth

First big test for Paris climate deal

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Hollande (Image: Reuters)REUTERS
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Hollande join in the celebrations

Do you remember the day we saved the world?

When COP President Laurent Fabius smacked down his gavel on December 12, it signalled that agreement had been reached at the UN climate conference in Paris on one of the world’s most intractable environmental and economic problems.

Read full articleFirst big test for Paris climate deal

Can ‘pay as you glow’ solve Malawi’s power crisis?

Malawi
This canal feeds a small-scale hydro scheme in the village of Bondo, Malawi that powers 250 homes

Two months ago, Bill Gates reminded us of a stunning bit of information.

The amount of electricity per person in sub-Saharan Africa is lower today (excluding South Africa) than it was 30 years ago.

Read full article

upreme shock: Has US court holed Paris climate deal?


ObamaGETTY IMAGES
President Obama’s Clean Power Plan aims to restrict carbon and boost renewable energy

Have five elderly, conservative Americans stalled what President Obama called the “best chance we have to save the one planet we’ve got”?

Despite all the noise from those stumping for Trump and feeling the burn for Bernie, the decision by a majority of the nine men and women who make up the US Supreme Court to temporarily halt President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, may have significant implications for the world beyond New Hampshire and the other 49 states.

Read full articleSupreme shock: Has US court holed Paris climate deal?

Did Dubya help to save the world?

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Cheers COP21! Did President Bush unwittingly play a role in developing the Paris Agreement?

Who should the world really thank for delivering a comprehensive, ambitious agreement that promises to deal with the issue of climate change over the course of this century?

Laurent Fabius? Christiana Figueres? Francois Hollande?

Read full articleDid Dubya help to save the world?

Has history been made at COP21?

Figueres

I’m not a fan of hyperbole, but it would be churlish to say the adoption of the Paris Agreement was anything other than a globally, historic moment.

This carefully worded document that balances the right of countries to develop with the need to protect the planet is a truly world changing instrument.

Read full articleHas history been made at COP21?

COP21: Five unanswered questions at climate conference

Protesters in Star Wars dress in ParisEPA
Protesters have been raising climate change awareness at the COP21 climate conference

The latest draft version of a potential world changing agreement represents a substantial improvement on previous versions.

It’s much shorter, with the key text of the actual agreement running to just 14 pages – the number of square brackets, indicating areas of disagreement, has reduced significantly to around 300 from more than 900.

Read full articleCOP21: Five unanswered questions at climate conference

COP21: Will it be absolutely Fabius in Paris?

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French foreign minister Laurent Fabius is insisting the climate conference will finish on time

As ministers arrive and this conference enters its final week, two big questions remain.

Can the politicians seal a deal that will have long-term implications for the health of the planet – and can the French change their hard-earned reputation for grumpiness on an epic scale?

Read full articleCOP21: Will it be absolutely Fabius in Paris?

Now that the leaders have left COP21, what happens next?

Laurent Fabius, COP21 president, 1 December 2015GETTY IMAGES
The hand of history? COP21 president Laurent Fabius with French leader Francois Hollande

Many negotiators will have breathed a big sigh of relief – the bosses have come and gone.

Everyone said the right things. The prospects of a deal, haven’t been harmed, even if they weren’t hugely advanced.

Read full articleNow that the leaders have left COP21, what happens next?

COP21: Fine words but divisions run deep

Paris gatheringAFP
Handshakes and warm words on the opening day: Now the hard work begins

“We are on the front line; we will fall. It must not happen to anybody else,” says the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong.

For our interview, he has come out into the main conference centre, away from the leader’s compound, where heads of state and prime ministers have been speaking to delegates here all through the day.

Read full articleCOP21: Fine words but divisions run deep

Will coal be on the dole after COP21?

Coal-fired plant generating powerPA
Many countries still rely on coal-fired power

For coal, COP21 is meant to be the start of the long goodbye.

This is the conference that’s supposed to consign the black stuff to the ash heap of history.

Read full articleWill coal be on the dole after COP21?

Copenhagen ghosts haunt climate talks

UN climate chiefGETTY IMAGES
UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius are hoping that talks will stay on track to secure a deal in Paris

“I already seen that movie, it doesn’t end well, it doesn’t, it gets really nasty.” So said Venezuelan negotiator Claudia Salerno in a tense session here at the Bonn climate talks on Thursday evening.

“I hope this is not going to be just a really, really nasty second Copenhagen,” she said to sustained applause.

Read full articleCopenhagen ghosts haunt climate talks

Warming tempts China in from the cold


Warming tempts China in from the cold

Real deal or meal deal? Will new climate treaty be a ‘nothing burger’?

ParisGETTY IMAGES
France is investing significant political capital in securing a new global deal on climate change

The fate of the world won’t be decided over the next three weeks – but the fate of a proposed global climate treaty just might be.

By the first week in October the world should have a good idea what the shape and scale of that ambitious project will be.

Read full articleReal deal or meal deal? Will new climate treaty be a ‘nothing burger’?

Electric vehicles boost climate ‘nirvana’ in the Himalayas

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Bhutan’s towering Himalayan peaks means it has a huge amount of hydro-powered electricity

Happiness? What’s that?

Colleagues might say that a mouth full of cake and Ireland winning the rugby world cup would see me eternally content.

Read full articleElectric vehicles boost climate ‘nirvana’ in the Himalayas

Could the smell of the sea help cool a warming planet?

Waves and sprayEYEWIRE
Tiny bubbles get lofted into the air by the churn of the sea

Ah, the summertime sizzle of a shell-strewn beach, the bracing odour of the briny sea. There’s nothing quite like it really.

If you happen to be on a beautiful beach, do take a good, deep, invigorating sniff!

Read full articleCould the smell of the sea help cool a warming planet?

Australia carbon plan sends shudder through neighbours

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Drought in Australia has been made worse by climate change according to researchers

The remnants of burnt carbon have been causing Australians all over the world to hang their heads in shame in recent days.

But the painful loss of the Ashes, cricket’s most ridiculous trophy, to England, isn’t the only CO2 related problem facing the Lucky Country.

Read full articleAustralia carbon plan sends shudder through neighbours

Will Kerry strike gold at Lima climate talks?

John KerryPA
John Kerry’s attendance is being seen as evidence the US wants to make up for Copenhagen’s failure

The US secretary of state John Kerry will arrive in Lima today to push forward global climate negotiations, taking place in the city.

Mr Kerry is the most senior American official to attend the talks since President Obama went to Copenhagen in 2009 – an event that didn’t end particularly well.

Read full articleWill Kerry strike gold at Lima climate talks?

‘Skunk power’ creates confusion over nuclear fusion

FusionLOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION
Lockheed Martin is working on a device that could become a compact fusion reactor

Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is doing its best to shatter my favourite science cliche.

“Nuclear fusion is just 30 years away – and always will be.”

Read full article‘Skunk power’ creates confusion over nuclear fusion

Will Obama’s climate surprise deliver a global deal?

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China and the US agree a deal on climate but does it bring a global treaty any closer?

We are a fickle bunch, us earthlings.

Back in 2009, the US signed the Copenhagen Accord and pledged that they would cut their emissions in 2025 by 30% compared to 2005 levels.

Read full articleWill Obama’s climate surprise deliver a global deal?

Strictly come warming: Swing time at the UN

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon launched the IPCC Synthesis Report in Copenhagen

Where would you rather be on a Saturday night?

Watching those familiar faces, admiring the nimble footwork, laughing at the catty comments?

Read full articleStrictly come warming: Swing time at the UN

Climate summit advances towards Paris deal

Ban Ki-moonImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThere was some cheer for Ban Ki-moon at the New York climate summit

Despite the absence of India and Australia, a majority of prime ministers and presidents did as Mr Ban had asked. They came to New York with pledges of action.

The French promised a billion dollars for the Green Climate Fund, a significant amount you might think, but miles from the goal of getting a hundred billion a year by 2020.

Read full articleClimate summit advances towards Paris deal

The ‘green blob’ loves Mr Ban – but for how long?

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Image captionMr Ban was joined by other high-profile friends for the march

Former British Environment Secretary Owen Paterson would not have been a happy chappy if he had been in New York for the culmination of a global day of protest against a lack of political action on climate change.

In Mr Paterson’s words, the world of environmental activism is the green blob – “a mutually supportive network of environmental pressure groups, renewable energy companies and some public officials who keep each other well supplied with lavish funds, scare stories and green tape”.

Read full articleThe ‘green blob’ loves Mr Ban – but for how long?

Speedy charging driving a global boom in electric cars

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Image captionAccording to Nissan, more than 2,000 of their Leaf electric cars have been sold in the UK in the first six months of 2014

Without a whisper or a whiff, electric cars seem to be gaining ground in the UK and elsewhere.

According to Ecotricity, the company that has installed a network of charging stations along the UK’s motorways, we are seeing a “revolution”.

Read full articleSpeedy charging driving a global boom in electric cars

Coral munching bumphead fish give insight into conservation

bumpheadKURT GROSS
Dubbed the reef elephant by researchers, bumphead parrotfish are highly endangered

Life is tough if you’re a blundering, buck toothed, bumphead.

You’re far, far bigger than all the rest of the parrotfish in the Pacific.

Read full articleCoral munching bumphead fish give insight into conservation

Matt added analysis to:

Science minister has tough job to follow

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As the youngest member of the Cabinet, Liz Truss will be welcomed by many as marking a distinct change from the divisive Owen Paterson.

Mr Paterson’s views on climate change, genetically modified foods and especially the badger cull earned the deep distrust of environmental campaigners while generating support among farmers.

Read full articleScience minister has tough job to follow

Is Obama’s climate ‘regime change’ unstoppable?

Gina McCarthyGETTY IMAGES
The EPA’s Gina McCarthy outlined the proposals on emissions from existing power plants

“It is not just about disappearing polar bears and disappearing ice caps,” said Gina McCarthy, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as she outlined the heavily-trailed Clean Power Plan proposal.

Cutting carbon emissions by a third by 2030, she said, was about “protecting our health and protecting our homes”.

Read full articleIs Obama’s climate ‘regime change’ unstoppable?

US set ‘to take very significant step’ on climate

President Barack ObamaAP
Opponents of the new rules argue that they will drive up electricity prices

President Obama is set to unveil the most significant American attempt yet made to curb carbon dioxide emissions when he announces new restrictions on existing power plants on Monday.

The president is likely to endorse a set of rules drawn up by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will seek to limit emissions from 1,600 existing facilities that are responsible for about a third of US CO2 emissions.

Read full articleUS set ‘to take very significant step’ on climate

Warm Texas wind blows green for Mars

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Wildfires in Texas have followed on from an extended drought in the state

This year is turning into a humdinger for those of us lucky enough to collect sprawling climate science reports.

Along with the block-busting trilogy from the IPCC, we’ve had a new tome from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and just this week, the US national climate assessment.

Read full articleWarm Texas wind blows green for Mars

The IPCC, Elvis and the elephant in the room

The IPCC presents the last of three highly anticipated reports in Berlin on SundayAFP
The IPCC presented the last of three highly anticipated reports in Berlin on Sunday

Everywhere you go in Berlin there are nostalgic echoes of the past – in the shadow of the wall’s remnants, old Trabants take tourists on nostalgic car rides to times long gone.

And at the conference centre where IPCC delegates have been ensconced for a week deliberating on how to save the world from dangerous climate change, other ghostly voices have been making their presence felt.

Read full articleThe IPCC, Elvis and the elephant in the room

Climate report: Creating a sense of urgency or alarm?

CoralETHAN DANIELS/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Corals are particularly vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification

The cool blue cover of the latest IPCC report on the impacts of climate change belies the rather hot stuff within.

Perhaps taking inspiration from their neon loving Japanese hosts, the report is heavy with reds, greens and yellows.

Read full articleClimate report: Creating a sense of urgency or alarm?

Climate report aims to blossom in Japan

CoralETHAN DANIELS/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Corals are particularly vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification

The cool blue cover of the latest IPCC report on the impacts of climate change belies the rather hot stuff within.

Perhaps taking inspiration from their neon loving Japanese hosts, the report is heavy with reds, greens and yellows.

Read full articleClimate report: Creating a sense of urgency or alarm?

Climate report aims to blossom in Japan

Springtime in JapanAFP
It’s springtime in Japan and the blossoms are spectacular as usual

Haiku, high towers and the scent of cherry blossom all come into play as government officials and scientists discuss the global impacts of climate change.

“There are no strangers under the cherry blossoms,” said Mr Nobuteru Ishihara, Japan’s minister for the environment, as he welcomed members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to what’s likely to be a fractious session here in Yokohama.

Read full articleClimate report aims to blossom in Japan

Taking the war out of global warming

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The widespread flooding in parts of England and Wales has encouraged debate about climate change

I once had a dream (or was it a dram?) in which the things we thought we knew for certain about the world were suddenly turned upside down.

In this strange universe, the cold war seemed to suddenly return, Ireland began to perform consistently at rugby, and arch-climate sceptics began to believe in dangerous levels of global warming.

Read full articleTaking the war out of global warming

Frolick and Yap to solve climate change?

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President Obama is using executive authority to impose emission limits on coal fired power stations like this one

Tackling the causes of climate change has worn the patience of some of the world’s biggest brains.

Attempts to put together a comprehensive global treaty have stumbled like drunks, somehow remaining on their feet but struggling to gain any forward momentum.

Read full articleFrolick and Yap to solve climate change?

Blue lagoons and higher roads to curb flood threat?

FloodsGETTY IMAGES
The floods have spread across thousands of acres of Somerset

Would a large lagoon the size of 12,000 football fields have prevented the flooding of the Somerset Levels?

According to Roger Falconer, professor of water engineering at Cardiff University, the Bridgewater Bay Lagoon proposal would have helped the waters flow away from the flat lands of the county.

Read full articleBlue lagoons and higher roads to curb flood threat?

Dabbling ducks struggling in floods

Ducks feedingSCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Pintails feed by dabbling

Wildlife organisations are being very careful in assessing the impacts of the recent flooding on species and the environment.

“We are not saying this is a disaster or this is something where wildlife has really suffered,” Grahame Madge from the RSPB told me, keenly aware that when people’s lives and homes are being threatened by rising waters, concerns about animal life comes a distant second.

Read full articleDabbling ducks struggling in floods

Emissions impossible: Did spies sink key climate deal?

Fort MeadeGETTY IMAGES
The headquarters of the NSA in Maryland, where information gleaned from intercepts was processed

The revelations of the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, are an ongoing embarrassment for the US government.

From Angry Birds to the mobile phone of Angela Merkel to the banal conversations of millions of people, the scale of the National Secutiry Agency’s spying activities knew few boundaries.

Read full articleEmissions impossible: Did spies sink key climate deal?

‘Lame duck versus laggards’ in battle for EU climate future

Wind farm in GermanyGETTY IMAGES
The EU has stuck with a solid 40% target for emissions reduction by 2030

The actions of a lame duck, said one critic. “Burnt out”, said another.

The EU commissioners, who leave office in November, were never going to please everyone with their new goals on climate and energy policy unveiled in Brussels this week.

Read full article‘Lame duck versus laggards’ in battle for EU climate future


Floods not the only worry for Defra

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Storm surges and high tides have caused flooding problems across the UK

Given the furious storms and relentless flooding that Britain has endured over the past two months, it is little wonder that reports about MPs criticisms of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) should focus on budget cuts and their impact on flood defences.

But the Departmental Annual Report 2012-13covers much more than just soggy ground and surging tides, and it deserves some attention.

Read full articleFloods not the only worry for Defra


Will crushing ivory curb poaching?

China ivoryTRAFFIC
China’s destruction of seized ivory is seen as a significant step against the illegal trade

China has become the latest country to carry out a public destruction of seized ivory, crushing some six tonnes of tusks and other pieces at a ceremony in Guangdong.

Last November, the United States crushed around five tonnes in a similar exercise.

Read full articleWill crushing ivory curb poaching?


Green Climate Fund seeks big bucks

DollarsGETTY IMAGES

One… hundred… billion dollars.

Cue an outburst of Dr Evil-like pinky chewing in the offices of the new Green Climate Fund (GCF), just opened in South Korea.

Read full articleGreen Climate Fund seeks big bucks


 

East Antarctica’s glaciers are stirring

By Jonathan Amos BBC Science Correspondent, Washington DC

Nasa says it has detected the first signs of significant melting in a swathe of glaciers in East Antarctica.

The region has long been considered stable and unaffected by some of the more dramatic changes occurring elsewhere on the continent.

But satellites have now shown that ice streams running into the ocean along one-eighth of the eastern coastline have thinned and sped up.

If this trend continues, it has consequences for future sea levels.

There is enough ice in the drainage basins in this sector of Antarctica to raise the height of the global oceans by 28m – if it were all to melt out.

“That’s the water equivalent to four Greenlands of ice,” said Catherine Walker from Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The glaciologist has been detailing her work here at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) .

Other stories from the AGU meeting you might like:

Chart of glacier positions
Image captionThe glaciers in Vincennes Bay have shown the biggest change in behaviour since 2008

Dr Walker has been making the most of a new initiative at the agency to process huge numbers of satellite images to get a more resolved and more timely view of what is happening in East Antarctica.

Previously, scientists had been aware that the region’s Totten Glacier was experiencing melting, most probably as a result of its terminus being affronted by warm water coming up from the deep ocean. Pretty much everything else in that part of the continent was considered stagnant, however.

The new satellite elevation and velocity maps change this view. They make it clear that nearby glaciers to Totten are also starting to respond in a similar way.

Marked change is detected in the Vincennes Bay and Denman areas just to the west, and in Porpoise Bay and on the George VI coast to the east.

Vincennes Bay – which includes the Underwood, Bond, Adams, and Vanderford glaciers – has the most pronounced loss in ice mass. Elevation is dropping at five times the rate it was in 2008 – with a total fall in height over the period of almost 3m.

“They’ve also sped up about 3% from their 2008 velocity, which sounds small but is significant enough to change the flux coming out of those glaciers because they are very deep,” said Dr Walker.

Glacier velocity
Image captionTotten has long been recognised as the fastest moving glacier in East Antarctica

Once again the melting culprit is likely to be warm water that is being pulled up from the deep by shifting sea-ice and wind patterns in the region.

The changes that are occurring are still quite subtle, and they are only really discernible because of the new automated computer tools that will search through the millions of satellite images taken of Antarctica.

Nasa is about to widen access to these tools through a project called Inter-mission Time Series of Land Ice Velocity and Elevation, or ITS_LIVE.

“I think we can anticipate that over the next five to 10 years, we’re going to have a lot of observationally driven discoveries, such as what Catherine is making, because of the new data that’s coming online,” said Alex Gardner, a glaciologist with Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos