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AMS report: 2015 set several climate records

3 August 2016

The Guardian: On 2 August the American Meteorological Society released its 26th annual State of the Climate report, which is compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with input from hundreds of scientists around the world. The report indicates that 2015 saw record highs for atmospheric and oceanic temperatures, sea levels, and atmospheric carbon dioxide. The annual surface temperature increased 0.1 °C over 2014, and thus the global temperature is now 1 °C warmer than during preindustrial times. The eastern Pacific Ocean, which experienced further warming from El Niño, was 2 °C warmer than the long-term average, and the Arctic was 8 °C over its average. Oceanic warming contributed to a sea level that is about 70 mm higher than the average in 1993, when satellite measurements of sea levels began. The report also pointed to record lows for Arctic maximum sea-ice coverage and a net loss of alpine glacier ice for the 36th consecutive year.

Bad summer for the journal impact factor

2 August 2016
Scientific publishing observers and practitioners blast the JIF and call for improved metrics.

UK research head wants to use Brexit to improve research funding system

2 August 2016

BBC: Earlier this year, the British government established UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to oversee the nine organizations that manage the country's £6 billion ($8 billion) of annual research funding. Former permanent secretary of the Treasury John Kingman was appointed its head. In the wake of the Brexit vote and the impending loss of about £850 million yearly in research funding from the European Union, Kingman says that he wants to strengthen the connections between the UK research funding organizations. At the same time, he says he does not want to undermine the strengths of those organizations, including their close connections with researchers. He says that the UKRI will provide a broad perspective that helps to unite the organizations in their funding goals.

New studies speed analysis of extreme weather events

2 August 2016
New York Times: Over the past decade, more complex computer models and ever-increasing amounts of weather data have been allowing climate scientists to not only better understand extreme weather events but also determine whether they were caused by climate change. An international effort called World Weather Attribution (WWA) has been working to accelerate such analyses and communicate the results. WWA scientists have found they achieve the best results by running climate models many times, varying the parameters, and averaging the results, which is a time-consuming process. To speed up their analysis of current weather events, the researchers rely on models that have already been run. Most recently, WWA scientists were able to determine within two weeks that the severe flooding in France last month was likely caused by climate change. The evidence was inconclusive regarding similar flooding in Germany.

Variable star is actually an unusual binary system

2 August 2016

Ars Technica: AR Scorpii was originally classified as a variable M-class star whose brightness varies over a period of 3.5 hours. However, an archive of images revealed additional variability beyond the originally observed periodicity. The star's maximum brightness varied by up to a factor of four. A more careful observation of the star revealed that the star's light alternated between being red-shifted and being blue-shifted over the same 3.5-hour period. The only explanation is the presence of a closely orbiting body roughly one-third as massive as the Sun—a white dwarf. The binary system also produces significantly more IR and radio emissions than would normally be expected. The extra light appears to be the result of photon emissions from extremely fast-moving electrons bombarding the M-class star. Researchers believe that the slowing of the white dwarf's current high rate of rotation may be involved in whipping up the electrons.

Gender gap persists in the physical sciences

2 August 2016
Nature: Even though women make up 49–58% of all undergraduates and graduates in the social and life sciences in the US, just 20% of physics students are female. To address the gaping gender gap in the field of physics education, the journal Physical Review Physics Education Research has published a special issue consisting of an editorial and 17 papers that include discussions of hurdles keeping women from entering the field, deterrents from finishing their degrees, the dearth of role models, persistent stereotypes, lack of self-confidence, and sexual harassment. Addressing those problems might entail the introduction of explicit codes of conduct, employment of more women faculty, and improvements in mentoring and teaching. Studies have shown that diversity in educational institutions benefits everyone, because productivity goes up and work–life balance improves.

Invisibility cloaks may not be useful at macroscopic scales

1 August 2016

New Scientist: Passive invisibility cloaks, which redirect light around objects without needing additional energy, may not be possible for macroscopic objects. Andrea Alù and Francesco Monticone of the University of Texas at Austin have shown that the size of the cloak and the range of wavelengths that it could redirect are inversely proportional. A cloak large enough to cover a person would redirect only a specific color of light, whose wavelength would be narrower than even the best lasers can produce. The researchers say that active cloaks, which use input energy to redirect or reemit light, may still be possible.

Two UK climate-denying advocacy group members lose climate change bet

1 August 2016

Guardian: In 2008, Ian Plimer and Alan Rudge, two members of a UK advocacy group called Global Warming Policy Foundation, which challenges the concept of climate change, accepted a bet proposed at a conference by climate scientist James Annan and climate economist Chris Hope. Annan and Hope offered to bet £1000 on 2015 being warmer than 2008; Plimer and Rudge took the bet—and lost. Some scientists are hoping to make betting on climate change a more common tactic when dealing with climate skeptics. The idea is to challenge climate deniers to support their beliefs with actions and not just words.

Climate change policy may be key issue in upcoming US presidential election

1 August 2016
New York Times: Climate change is being discussed by US presidential candidates, and it may prove to be a key issue in choosing the new commander in chief. Like most Democrats, candidate Hillary Clinton is a strong proponent of climate change action, and she has spoken many times about her plan to address global warming. Donald Trump, however, has been extremely vocal in his opposition to the idea of climate change; he claims it’s just a hoax. If elected, he has said he plans to rescind President Obama’s climate change regulations and withdraw the US from its commitment to abide by the recent Paris climate agreement. Trump’s views may alienate some Republicans who oppose Obama’s policies but don’t necessarily deny climate change outright.

Asian monsoons and ice-age cycles

1 August 2016
Isotopic analysis of cave stalagmites connects the intensity of rainfall over East Asia and ice-age terminations.

Japan space agency considering replacement satellite after <em>Hitomi</em> failure

1 August 2016
Nature: Following the catastrophic loss of the Hitomi satellite shortly after launch earlier this year, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is already considering a replacement mission. Hitomi 2, which would be designed to carry out Hitomi’s original objectives of studying the structure and evolution of the universe, would require the rebuilding of one of Hitomi’s key instruments, an x-ray spectrometer provided by NASA. Representatives from the two agencies are meeting 5 August to discuss the project.

Disease outbreaks partially fueled by replacement employees

1 August 2016
Substitutes filling in for sick staff contribute to a rapid rise in infection rate.

Clinton says "I believe in science" in acceptance speech

29 July 2016

Geekwire: In Hillary Clinton's nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, she stated that when it comes to climate change she accepts the scientific consensus. That puts her in direct contrast to Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, who has in the past called global warming a hoax and a money-making industry. Science is rarely mentioned in political campaigns—Trump didn't use the word at all in his own acceptance speech—so Clinton's "I believe in science" line resulted in a lot of plaudits from scientific commentators on social media. Clinton also shared her belief that shifting to clean energy will help bolster the US economy and drive technology and innovation.

Nearly blind astronomer opens observatory for tourists

29 July 2016
Tim Doucette promotes the dark skies of Nova Scotia.

UK prime minister voices commitment to science in wake of Brexit

29 July 2016
BBC: Newly elected prime minister Theresa May is wasting no time in addressing the concerns of scientists and researchers over the recent vote by the UK to leave the European Union. Through its association with the EU, the UK has been receiving about £850 million ($1 billion) in research funding each year, and some 30 000 EU scientists are working at UK universities. Since the Brexit vote, that funding will most likely be discontinued, and it has already been reported that grant applications by UK scientists for EU funds are being refused and that EU scientists have declined to accept posts in the UK. To address scientists' concerns over the Brexit decision, May sent a letter to Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute in London and former president of the Royal Society, in which she reaffirmed the UK government's commitment to doing all it can to support scientists and scientific research funding.

Dedicated conference still can't confirm a complex proof's correctness

29 July 2016
BBC: In 2012, Shinichi Mochizuki of Kyoto University in Japan published a proof of the abc conjecture—a theoretical relationship between prime numbers. The proof is so complex that it still hasn't been verified by other mathematicians. In December, mathematicians organized a conference to discuss the proof, but Mochizuki did not attend and little progress was made. That led to last week's conference at Kyoto University, with Mochizuki as the main speaker. The attendees now say they have a better understanding of Mochizuki's work but still can't determine whether the proof is correct or not.

Space travel may increase the risk of heart disease, says study

29 July 2016
Washington Post: According to a recent study in Scientific Reports, the mortality rate from cardiovascular disease among Apollo lunar astronauts is four to five times higher than for astronauts who flew only in low-Earth orbit or never ventured into space at all. However, the study group was exceptionally small because only about two dozen people have ever left Earth orbit. In fact, the only astronauts who have left Earth's protective magnetosphere are those who went to the Moon. Three of them have died of heart disease: Neil Armstrong, Ron Evans, and James Irwin. Although one of the study's authors, Michael Delp of Florida State University, acknowledges that no definitive conclusions can be drawn because the data set is so small, he says the subject warrants further research. As future crewed missions to the Moon and beyond are being contemplated, it is important to better understand the potential health risks associated with space travel, including prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation.

Creating a career to create careers

29 July 2016
Kim Nilsson parlayed her experience in astronomy into a business in data science boot camps.

News publications place "A kilobyte rewritable atomic memory" within physics history

29 July 2016

So do physicists, who link a nanotechnology breakthrough to their late colleague Richard Feynman’s vision from a half century ago.

Greenland glacier melt documented through archival photos and records

28 July 2016
Nature: Archival photographs, sketches, and temperature measurements are being used by researchers to better understand the effects of climate change on Greenland’s ice sheet and glaciers. Conducting historical glacier research, Anders Bjørk at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen is a real-life Indiana Jones. Not only does he sift through old photographs, maps, and other documents in castles and museums, but he has also embarked on numerous epic sea voyages. He and his colleagues are now comparing the historic weather data with modern satellite data to see how Greenland's glaciers have changed over the past 80 years. Among what they have learned so far is that glaciers are more sensitive to periods of warming and cooling than previously thought and that not all glaciers respond to warming in the same way.