Science

Inverse Daily: The world’s thermometer is off the charts

The last decade was the hottest on record — it is "almost certain" the 2020s will be even hotter.

It’s easy to watch many of the presidential debates and assume that we are living in a world with a stabilized climate and thriving ecosystems. Aside from CNN’s climate town hall in September, climate change has been given very little air time in the debates. But on Tuesday night, climate change was given some much-needed spotlight – first thanks to Bernie Sanders.

Sanders spoke to the importance of climate change being included in trade agreements, specifically the Trump-led United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. “Given the fact that climate change is right now the greatest threat facing this planet, I will not vote for a trade agreement that does not incorporate very, very strong principles to significantly lower fossil fuel emissions in the world,” Sanders said.

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Many candidates also reiterated their commitment to climate change and environmental justice. “Climate change threatens every living thing on this planet. And the urgency of the moment cannot be overstated,” said Elizabeth Warren, who later noted that this issue “particularly hits black and brown communities.” Tom Steyer even brought up “managed retreat” – the idea that communities will have to relocate in order to be safeguarded from the impacts of climate change – although nothing close to a solution was put forth.

There’s a lot at stake with the debate on how to act on climate change. According to new NOAA and NASA research, this past decade was the hottest on record, and the 2020s are predicted to be even hotter. This threatens the survival of all of biological life, from humans to tiny tardigrades. Be sure to check out Inverse writer Nina Pullano’s story on the unfortunate plight of the tardigrades in a world of rising temperatures.

I’m Greta Moran, your interstellar guide to all of Inverse’s latest science and technology stories at Inverse Daily.

INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The fact is that the planet is warming, and every year we add one new data point.”

— Gavin Schmidt, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The world’s thermometer is off the charts

The last decade was the hottest on record — and 2019 was the second-warmest year in recorded history, announced the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA on Wednesday. Each organization ran separate analyses that confirmed alarming new details about the state of our climate.

Speaking at a press conference, scientists from NOAA and NASA also confirmed that humans are driving the trends. Analysis of both natural and human-induced causes showed that “all of the trends are effectively anthropogenic at this point,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Schmidt and his colleague from NOAA said that the trends are expected to continue over the next decade, including new record-setting temperatures — unless, of course, we do something about it. There’s no historical precedent for this kind of action since we haven’t seen numbers like this before, Schmidt said. “We aren’t able to tell you from looking at the past how society will react to this information.”

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The transformative power of facelifts

Decades ago, face transplants seemed more like science fiction than reality. Now, scientists can take a face grafted from a deceased donor and surgically transplant it onto a new person, who can then begin to live a more normal life. As new research shows, they can even use a transplanted face to express some emotions.

As of 2018, there have been about 40 face transplants done around the world, demonstrating that we’ve made major strides in getting the body to accept an entirely new face. But the next frontier is figuring out what the social and emotional components of that new face are. New research shows that face transplant patients can express happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust with their new faces. This study was based on six patients who got full or partial face transplants. Sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust were small, but detectable. But their expression of happiness was restored to 43 percent to that of healthy controls.

Miguel Dorante, the study’s lead author, tells Inverse that this study was intended to help people regain the ability to express their own internal feelings with an entirely new face. The idea is that your concept of a smile, informed by your cultural experience or life experience is slightly different than someone else’s. So, when someone gets a face transplant, they have to try to express their psychological idea of a smile on a face that wasn’t always theirs.

Figuring out how to do that is tricky, but this study suggests that one day, face transplant patients will be able to get closer and closer to that goal.

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Climate change is killing one of nature’s most famous survivalists

Tardigrades, you’ve impressed us for years with your ability to survive even the most extreme conditions — from being frozen on Earth to radiation in outer space. But new research shows that even these hardy little water bears are no match for the rising temperatures that come with climate change.

Just a small temperature increase can be deadly for tardigrades, shows a new study out of Denmark. Researchers tested tardigrades in both active and dehydrated states and found that a temperature of 37.1 degrees Celsius was lethal to tardigrades that weren’t acclimated to higher temperatures. Those that were acclimated — thanks to researchers first exposing them to warmer temps — fared slightly better.

What’s really striking is the fact that the temperatures that killed tardigrades aren’t all that much higher than those already seen in Denmark. Temperatures can reach a maximum of 36.4 degrees Celsius (about 97 degrees Fahrenheit), and if climate change persists at this rate, it could spell trouble for tardigrades — and, of course, for us humans.

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THC can make cancer cells take off like a runaway train

THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, does more than get you high. According to a new study, THC can disrupt cell death processes, speeding up the growth of a common cancer. To make this scary discovery, researchers explored how cannabinoids influence cellular function in animals and humans, and how the substance impacts cancer development. The team focused on HPV-related head and neck cancer, one of the fastest growing cancers.

“We now have convincing scientific evidence that daily marijuana use can drive tumor growth in HPV-related head and neck cancer,” Joseph Califano, researcher at the University of California, San Diego and study co-author, said.

“Marijuana and other cannabis products are often considered benign, but it is important to note that all drugs that have benefits can also have drawbacks. This is a cautionary tale.”

The findings are terrifying, especially for the thousands of people using medical marijuana to ease cancer and treatment-related symptoms like nausea and pain. For these people, medical marijuana is supposed to help, but the substance may be having an unforeseen side effect, this study suggests.

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A space mystery

For nearly 15 years, a cosmic mystery has been unfolding at the center of our galaxy, and the main character is the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole — Sagittarius A*.

It all began in 2005, when astronomers observed a strange object orbiting around the black hole at the center of our galaxy. The object, dubbed G1, appeared to be a cloud of gas. And then, in 2012, astronomers watched as a second cloud of gas, (surprisingly) named G2, also made its way closer to Sagittarius A*.

The two objects were weird. As they got closer to the black hole, they stretched and distorted so much that scientists weren’t sure what to make of them.

Now, the space plot thickens. Scientists have discovered a new class of these strange and mysterious objects orbiting around the black hole. In a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, scientists detail four new objects — G3, G4, G5, and G6 — and determined their orbit around Sagittarius A*.

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