Disappearing Frontier: Alaska’s Glaciers Retreating at Record Pace

Alaska will soon close a year that is shaping up as its hottest on record, with glaciers in the “Frontier State” melting at record or near-record levels, pouring waters into rising global seas, scientists said after taking fall measurements.Lemon Creek Glacier in Juneau, where records go back to the 1940s, had its second consecutive year of record mass loss, with 3 meters erased from the surface, U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Louis Sass told Reuters.Melt went all the way up to the summit, said Sass, one of the experts who travel to benchmark glaciers to take measurements in the fall.”That’s a really bad sign for a glacier,” he said, noting that high-altitude melt means there is no accumulation of snow to compact into ice and help offset lower-elevation losses.At Wolverine Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, loss was the second highest in a record that goes back to the 1960s. Sass said it failed to match the record set in 2004 only because so much of the glacier had already melted.”The lower part’s completely gone now,” he said.FILE – U.S. President Barack Obama views Bear Glacier on a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, Alaska, Sept. 1, 2015.Drastic melting was also reported at Kenai Fjords National Park, which former President Barack Obama once visited to call attention to climate change. There, Bear Glacier, a popular tourist spot, retreated by nearly a kilometer in just 11 months, according to August measurements by the National Park Service.”It’s almost like you popped it and it started to deflate,” said Nate Lewis, a Seward-based wilderness guide who takes travelers into the new lake that has formed at the foot of the shrinking glacier.Even one of the few Alaska glaciers that had been advancing, Taku just southeast of the city of Juneau, is now losing ice at a fast clip.Particularly ominous is the high altitude at which Taku is melting, said Mauri Pelto, who heads the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. This year, the summer melt reached as high as 1,450 meters, 25 meters above the previous high-altitude record set just last year, he said.Casting off chunksNow that it is retreating, Taku is expected to start casting off big ice chunks, increasing Alaska’s already significant contribution to rising sea levels, according to a study co-authored by Sass and Shad O’Neel, a glaciologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. The study is scheduled to be presented at the annual conference of the American Geologic Union next week in San Francisco.FILE – Chugach National Forest ranger Megan Parsley holds photos showing this summer’s ice loss at the face of Portage Glacier, Alaska, Aug. 17, 2019.Alaska recorded its warmest month ever in July and the trend has continued.”Alaska is on pace to break their record for warmest year unless December is dramatically cooler than forecasted,” Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center, said in a Dec. 1 tweet.Alaska’s glaciers account for far less than 1 percent of the world’s land ice. But their melt contributes roughly 7 percent of the water that is raising the world’s sea levels, according a 2018 study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and co-authored by O’Neel.There are also local impacts. Scientists say glacial melt affects salmon-spawning streams and harms marine fish and animal habitats. It is creating new lakes in the voids where ice used to be, and outburst floods from those lakes are happening more frequently, scientists say.Changes in the glaciers and the ecosystems they feed has been so fast that they are hard to track, said O’Neel at USGS, who measured the melt at Wolverine Glacier in September.”Everything’s been pretty haywire lately.”
 

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Clamor as Greta Thunberg Joins Climate Activists in Madrid

Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in Madrid Friday to join thousands of other young people in a march to demand world leaders take real action against climate change.
                   
After making it through a swarm of media cameras and microphones at the Spanish capital’s northern train station, the Swedish teen posted an ironic tweet saying that she had “successfully managed to sneak into Madrid.”
                   
“I don’t think anyone saw me,” she added. “Anyway it’s great to be in Spain!”
                   
Madrid is hosting two-week, United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at streamlining the rules on global carbon markets and agreeing on how poor countries should be compensated for destruction largely caused by emissions from rich nations.
                   
The talks came as scientific evidence mounts about disasters that could ensue from further global warming, including a study commissioned by 14 seafaring nations due to be published Friday predicting that unchecked climate change could devastate fishery industries and coral reef tourism.
                   
Thunberg paid a surprise visit to the venue of the talks and joined a group of some 40 teens staging a sit-in there to demand real action against climate change.
                   
Holding hands, the teens sang a version of John Lennon’s “Power To the People” and displayed banners with the logo of Fridays for Future, the global climate movement inspired by Thunberg.
                   
Thunberg did not appear unsettled by the commotion surrounding her presence.
                   
“It’s absurd. I laugh at it. I do not understand why it has become like this,” the 16-year-old was quoted as saying by Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, whose reporter rode with them in an electric car in Madrid.
                   
“I don’t like being at the center of the focus all the time, but this is a good thing,” she told Aftonbladet. “As soon as the media writes about me, they also have to write about the climate crisis. If this is a way to write about the climate crisis, then I guess it is good.”
                   
While Thunberg seemed bemused by the attention, her father Svante was startled, saying it was total madness.''
                   
“I have never seen anything like this,” he told Aftonbladet.
                   
The study commissioned by seafaring nations says climate change  could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in losses by 2050, adding that limiting global warming would lessen the economic impact for coastal countries, but that they also need to adapt to ocean changes.
                   
The presence in Madrid of Thunberg is expected to shift the attention to demands for greater action by non-governmental organizations and a whole new generation of environment-minded activists.
                   
Past appearances have won her plaudits from some leaders and criticism from others who've taken offense at the angry tone of her speeches.
                   
An advocate for carbon-free transportation, Thunberg traveled by train overnight from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where she arrived earlier this week after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States by catamaran.
                   
That became necessary after a sudden change of venue for the COP25 summit following a wave of anti-government protests that hit Chile, the original host.
                   
Separately Friday, an alliance of American states, cities, academic institutions and companies opened its own venue at the U.N. climate talks, aiming to show that despite the federal administration's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, many Americans remain committed to the treaty's goal of curbing global warming.
                   
Elan Strait, who manages the “We Are Still In” initiative for the environmental conservationist World Wildlife Fund, said the movement is
a short-term band-aid not only to get those carbon dioxide emissions down but also to encourage policymakers to lay the ground for further achievements.”
                   
“And that, regardless of the color of the government that is in power,” Strait said.
                  
Over 3,800 organizations and corporations representing 70% of U.S. economic output have joined the coalition, organizers claim, amounting to roughly half of the country’s emissions.
                   
The U.S. Climate Action Center is hosting Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin; Pat Brown, the chief executive of non-meat burger company Impossible Foods; Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh; and others.
                   
The venue is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charitable organization founded by billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is now seeking the Democratic nomination to run in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

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Drones: A New Weapon in the Fight Against Malaria in Tanzania

Drones are being used as a new weapon in the fight against Malaria on the island of Zanzibar. In the village of Cheju in particular, drones are spraying a silicone-based liquid on large stretches of stagnant water in rice paddies where malaria-carrying mosquitoes lay their eggs. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports on how the country is using the new method to combat the disease

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‘Mighty Mice’ Possible Key to Maintaining Muscle Mass

Scientists launched genetically modified mice into space December 5 as part of a study to find ways to help maintain the health of astronauts in space They have twice the muscle mass of their “ordinary” counterparts. As VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports, the research could provide insight into muscular degeneration in older populations and those with muscle-wasting conditions. 

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‘Cranky Uncle’ Game Offers a Vaccination Against Climate Disinformation

When it comes to climate change, deciding what facts you can trust and what’s fake news can be a challenge, particularly in an era of sophisticated misinformation campaigns and complex scientific data.But an ally is at hand: ‘Cranky Uncle,’ a gruff cartoon character and denier of climate change facts who, in a new game, helps you master the art of creating global warming disinformation — and makes you better at identifying it in the real world.From the use of fake experts to cherry-picking data, “you learn the techniques and then you’re able to spot them yourself,” said John Cook, an assistant professor at Virginia’s George Mason University and one of the creators of the online game.In one scenario, for instance, Cranky Uncle is falling, unconcerned, from a tall building while a white-coat-clad scientist leans out a window, warning he’ll hit the ground in 12 to 15 seconds.”Get back to me when you have more certainty!” Cranky Uncle demands.Such “impossible expectations” for predictions are one way of trying to undermine scientific data, the game notes, alongside techniques such as logical fallacies.In one of those, Cranky Uncle insists that a boat he’s in can’t be sinking — despite the stern being underwater — because the prow, where he’s standing, is still rising out of the water as the vessel, Titanic-style, becomes vertical.’Inoculate’ game playersThe idea, Cook said, is essentially to “inoculate” users against climate change disinformation and misinformation they might encounter by purposely exposing them to a small dose of it.”It basically stops misinformation from spreading, from people passing it on,” said Cook, a climate change communications expert born in Australia and now working in the United States.Both countries, he said, are widely seen as strongholds of climate denialism — alongside Canada and the United Kingdom — despite evidence of worsening droughts, wildfires, floods and storms.The idea for the game — currently still a prototype — comes from work by Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge, who in 2018 created Bad News, a game designed to help players identify fake news by learning how to create it.Game played in 15 languagesThat online game, so far played by about a million people in 15 languages, “is non-political and non-judgmental. It gives people an environment to learn about these techniques regardless of what your prior views are,” van der Linden said.Now ‘Cranky Uncle’ “is using the same techniques that worked for us. It’s kind of silly and people can relate to it.”Cook, who has a background in drawing cartoons, said one of the appeals of Cranky Uncle is that most people have run into a character like him.That’s particularly true in the United States where just under 10% of the people say they are sure climate change is not happening and actively oppose action to reduce emissions, according to research published by Yale University.”Just about everybody says, ‘I’ve got an uncle just like this.’ I think it’s almost a universal human condition,” Cook said.Crowdfunding leads to prototypeHe hopes to raise $15,000, in part through crowdfunding, to turn the prototype — tested in university classes on the U.S. East Coast — into a phone app and launch it mid-2020.He said initial reactions from students have been largely positive, with many saying they had fun, and felt they could now better see through attempts to mislead them — and not just about climate change.”We found that playing this game about climate disinformation inoculated them against any kind of misinformation,” he said.

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UN Climate Talks Aim to Pave Way for Global Carbon Market

On a cold afternoon in late November, Jan Gerrit Otterpohl eyes the chimneys of Berlin’s Heizkraftwerk Mitte, a state-of-the-art power plant that supplies the city with heat and electricity. It’s not the billowing steam he’s interested in, but the largely invisible carbon dioxide that the power station exhales as it burns natural gas.Under European Union rules, the plant’s operator, Vattenfall, needs a permit for each ton of carbon dioxide it emits. Otterpohl’s job is to keep costs low by making sure the company buys only as many permits as necessary, at the current market price.Economists say that carbon markets like the one Otterpohl uses can become a powerful tool in the fight against climate change, by giving emitters a financial incentive to reduce greenhouse gases. But despite making progress in other areas, governments have for years been unable to agree on the rules that would allow truly global trade in carbon permits to flourish.Negotiators at a U.N. meeting in Madrid this month are aiming to finally tackle the issue, after last year agreeing on almost all other parts of the rulebook governing the 2015 Paris climate accord.“There are reasons to be optimistic and to think that there could be some progress because of the political attention that it’s getting,” said Alex Hanafi, a lead counsel at the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund.Many governments are struggling to make the emissions cuts necessary to meet the Paris accord’s goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.The hope is that putting a price on carbon will unlock billions of dollars in investments as countries and companies seek the most cost-effective way to cut emissions. By capping the number of permits in the market and reducing it steadily, the incentive to save on emissions would grow over time.“There is tremendous potential for carbon markets to contribute to the achievement of the Paris agreement goals,” said Hanafi.But he warned that a bad deal on carbon markets, known in climate diplomacy parlance as ‘Article 6,’ would be “worse than no deal at all.”That would be the case, for example, if airlines find it cheaper to offset their emissions than reduce them; or if countries protect large areas of carbon-absorbing forests, sell the resulting permits to other nations and simultaneously count them toward their own emissions-reduction efforts.Brazil has long pushed back against some of the stricter accounting rules demanded by the EU and the United States. The Latin American nation, criticized by environmentalists for failing to properly protect the Amazon rainforest, also insists that it should be allowed to keep vast amounts of carbon credits amassed under a now-discredited system, a stance shared by China and India.“It’s very important to really avoid these kind of negative impacts,” said Claudia Kemfert, a senior energy expert at the German Institute for Economic Research.Kemfert noted that it took more than a decade to tweak the emissions trading system that so far only covers the power and heavy industry sectors in 27 European Union countries— all, except Britain — plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — a region with well-functioning markets and low levels of corruption.Otterpohl, who oversees emissions at Vattenfall’s Berlin power plant, agreed.“As far as the EU (emissions trading system) is concerned, there’s now a mature and functioning market in the areas it covers.”Expanding that market to cover other sectors in the EU, such as transportation and home heating, or linking it up with other existing emissions trading systems in China, California and elsewhere should be possible, said Daniel Wragge, the director of political and regulatory affairs at the European Energy Exchange in Leipzig, Germany.“Technically speaking, it’s not a challenge,” said Wragge, whose company manages the marketplace for European emissions, where a ton of carbon dioxide is currently traded for about 25 euros ($27.70). “But, of course, there are certain conditions and the key is, of course, that the certificates are mutually recognized.”Kemfert cautioned that putting a price on emissions alone won’t stop climate change.“What we need are many, many activities to reduce emissions,” she said. “If we reach a carbon market, that’s fine. But we should go for other solutions very urgently.”

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New Biogen Data Showed no Major Safety Issues for its Alzheimer’s Drug

Biogen Inc on Thursday presented new data on its experimental Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab that eased concerns raised by some experts but still left many questions unanswered as the company made its case about why it plans to seek U.S. approval after declaring the drug a failure in March.Experts had been watching closely for any statistical abnormalities or excess safety issues that would affect how the drug is reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), likely in the second half of 2020.It has been at least 15 years since the FDA has reviewed an application for a new Alzheimer’s treatment, and an agent that can slow progression of the mind-wasting disease is desperately needed.Alzheimer’s experts on a panel organized by the company, who had seen the data previously, expressed confidence that the complicated study did show that the drug was able to slow progression of the disease.“All of the data suggests this is a disease modification. That means the impact of the treatment will continue to accrue with time,” said Dr. Paul Aisen, an Alzheimer’s expert from the University of Southern California.Dr. Ronald Petersen, an Alzheimer’s expert from Mayo Clinic who moderated the panel and has been a paid adviser for Biogen, said while one of the two studies, known as Emerge, was “overwhelmingly positive,” the twin study known as Engage, was not. “Overall, I think it’s more positive than negative,” he said of the results.Petersen was not too worried about the rates of a brain swelling side effect, known as ARIA-E, which occurred in 33-35 percent of patients in the high-dose groups.“The side effects are there. They’re not zero. They’re to be expected. But I think they’re manageable.”Others, however, acknowledged that the affected sample size was small and the trials were cut short early. Only one of the two phase 3 trials showed a statistically significant benefit.“This reinforces what I thought before. That we need a third study. The data are encouraging, but there are still questions about whether the drug has a clinical effect,” said Dr. Howard Fillit, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, who was at the meeting.Fillit said the company only measured one timepoint – 78 weeks after treatment. “It still remains to be seen if this effect is sustained. It could be an anomaly.”Dr. Eric Siemers, a former Alzheimer’s researcher for Eli Lilly and a consultant on drugs for neurodegenerative disease who was not involved with the study, said based on his read of the data, the patient responses are not happening by chance.“The regulators will have a very difficult job. Do you look at the totality of the data, or require more study, which would be years away,” he said.Stifel analyst Paul Matteis said in a note to clients that he saw aspects that were both “incrementally better and worse than expected,” and puts the probability of the drug winning approval at less than 50%.Biogen’s shares had been halted prior to the presentation at a Alzheimer’s meeting, reopened lower, and then rose as investors tried to parse the meeting from the complicated study.Biogen has partnered with Japan’s Eisai Co Ltd to develop aducanumab as well as BAN2401, which works in a similar way.

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Samoa’s Capital Deserted as Teams Battle Measles Door to Door

Samoa’s main streets were eerily quiet Thursday as the government stepped up efforts to curb a measles epidemic that has killed 62 people.The government told most public and private workers to stay home Thursday and Friday and shut down roads to nonessential vehicles as teams began going door-to-door to administer vaccines.Families in the Pacific island nation were asked to hang red flags from their houses if they needed to be vaccinated.A red flag hangs outside the home of residents who have not been vaccinated in Apia, Samoa, Dec. 5, 2019. Samoa’s main streets were quiet Thursday, as the government stepped up efforts to curb a measles epidemic that has killed 62 people.Most of those who have died from the virus are young, with 54 deaths among children age 4 or younger.The Samoa Observer newspaper said the normally bustling capital Apia was a ghost town Thursday, with only birds nesting in the rooftops and stray dogs roaming the streets.Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi told reporters the vaccine drive was unprecedented in the nation’s history.He said one challenge was that a lot of people hadn’t considered that measles could be deadly.“They seem to take a kind of lackadaisical attitude to all the warnings that we had issued through the television and also through the radio,” he said.Another challenge, he said, was that others had been seeking help from traditional healers, who had been successfully treating tropical diseases in Samoa for some 4,000 years.“Some of our people pay a visit to traditional healers thinking that measles is a typical tropical disease, which it is not,” the prime minister said.Samoan authorities believe the virus was first spread by a traveler from New Zealand.National emergencyThe nation declared a national emergency last month and mandated that all 200,000 people get vaccinated. The government has also closed all schools and banned children from public gatherings.According to the government, more than 4,000 people have contracted the disease since the outbreak began and 172 people remain in hospitals, including 19 children in critical condition.Figures from the World Health Organization and UNICEF indicate that fewer than 30% of Samoan infants were immunized last year. That low rate was exacerbated by a medical mishap that killed two babies who were administered a vaccine that had been incorrectly mixed, causing wider delays and distrust in the vaccination program.

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Disabled Jewish and Arab Children Treated Together in Jerusalem Hospital

The Alyn Pediatric Rehabilitation Hospital in Jerusalem offers innovative therapies for children with serious injuries. They treat children (and parents) from diverse national, cultural and religious backgrounds, preparing them to cope with their special needs in their home communities. Linda Gradstein reports from Jerusalem.

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Drug Can Curb Dementia’s Delusions, Research Finds

A drug that curbs delusions in Parkinson’s patients did the same for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in a study that was stopped early because the benefit seemed clear.If regulators agree, the drug could become the first treatment specifically for dementia-related psychosis and the first new medicine for Alzheimer’s in nearly two decades. It targets some of the most troubling symptoms that patients and caregivers face — hallucinations that often lead to anxiety, aggression, and physical and verbal abuse.Results were disclosed Wednesday at a conference in San Diego.Unmet need for treatment“This would be a very important advance,” said one independent expert, Dr. Howard Fillit, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.Although the field is focused on finding a cure for dementia and preventing future cases, “there is a huge unmet need for better treatment” for those who have it now, said Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief science officer.The drug is pimavanserin, a daily pill sold as Nuplazid by Acadia Pharmaceuticals Inc. It was approved for Parkinson’s-related psychosis in 2016 and is thought to work by blocking a brain chemical that seems to spur delusions.About 8 million Americans have dementia, and studies suggest that up to 30% of them develop psychosis.“It’s terrifying,” said Dr. Jeffrey Cummings of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. “You believe that people might be trying to hurt you. You believe that people are stealing from you. You believe that your spouse is unfaithful to you. Those are the three most common false beliefs.”How the study workedHe consults for Acadia and helped lead the study, which included about 400 people with dementia and psychosis. All were given a low dose of the drug for three months, and those who seemed to respond or benefit were then split into two groups. Half continued on the drug and the others were given dummy pills for six months or until they had a relapse or worsening of symptoms. Neither the patients nor their doctors knew who was getting what.Independent monitors stopped the study when they saw that those on dummy pills were more than twice as likely as those on the drug to relapse or worsen — 28% versus nearly 13%.There were relatively few serious side effects — 5% in the drug group and 4% in the others. Headaches and urinary tract infections were more common among those on the drug. Two deaths occurred, but study leaders said neither was related to the drug.Carrillo said the study was small, but the drug’s effect seemed large, and it’s not known whether the federal Food and Drug Administration would want more evidence to approve a new use.Risk of deathCurrent anti-psychotic medicines have some major drawbacks and are not approved for dementia patients.“They’re often used off label because we have very few other options,” Fillit said.All carry warnings that they can raise the risk of death in elderly patients, as does Nuplazid.Cost could be an issue — about $3,000 a month. What patients pay can vary depending on insurance coverage.

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