“Don’t touch that!” was my favorite refrain as an uptight little girl with very stringent rules about who goes near my Beanie Babies. These days, I’m still particular but more magnanimous — a house guest can drink from my mug if they really like. But generally, I like my space unperturbed — Antarctica probably feels that way, too.
Sadly, new research reveals that tourists and scientists visiting Antarctica leave a climate-killing mark. You’ll find more about that story below, but before you start reading, a question: If someone wanted to visit your hometown, how would you want them to respect the space? Hit ‘reply’ and let us know, we’ll feature some of your responses in a newsletter next week.
Frosted in snow and sliding penguins, Antarctica, the world’s most southern continent, is no longer safe in its bubble. Tourists, and even well-meaning researchers, are leaving their mark on pristine snowbanks in small but undesirable ways — a puff of a cigarette here, a smudge from a snowmobile there.
This week, a study in Nature Communications attempted to quantify all these sooty signs of human life. The results are disappointing — the authors found that “each individual sight-seeing visitor to the Antarctic Peninsula contributes about 80 additional tons of snowmelt annually, and each researcher about 600 tons,” reports science writer Lauren Leffer.
But the “amount of black carbon they found was small,” writes Leffer.
“Too small, in fact, to be visible to the human eye and an order of magnitude less than what’s been recorded in the Arctic, Himalayas, and elsewhere.” Although that is relatively good news, “even a tiny amount of soot can change a lot,” writes Leffer, and researchers say Antarctica needs renewable energy now.
Leave no trace: The climate crisis will forever change national parks
2020 shook the globe in a few painful ways, one of them being the ruinous wildfires that thrashed through six percent of California’s forests.
“Scientists already link these severe, frequent wildfires in the western U.S. to climate change,” writes Inverse nature reporter Tara Yarlagadda. “Still, new research also reveals that wildfires may have a surprising effect on water resources in this drought-stricken region.”
The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that “water runoff from streams increases in heavily burned forests in the years following a wildfire,” writes Yarlagadda. “While enhanced stream runoff might seem like a good thing in a drought, it also increases the risks of floods and landslides while potentially reducing water quality.”
The study’s authors don’t anticipate a silver lining. Actually, they “conclude widespread increases in forest fires will likely continue in the coming years as global warming spikes,” writes Yarlagadda.
“Reduced forest coverage will likely enhance stream runoff even further.” But you never know what future research could find.
Stomp it out: The heart of a famous constellation is on fire
I love my Covid-19 vaccine. It helps me feel safe when I eat agnolotti indoors. For good reason, too: “People who have been vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19 appear to have long-lasting protection against serious complications from Covid-19 variants, including Omicron, for at least six months after their last shot,” reports Inverse health reporter Katie MacBride.
It seemed like the rapidly-spread Omicron posed a particular threat to our vaccines. In part, that’s because both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines attack the original virus’ spike protein.
Tricky Omicron, instead, had 32 mutations on its spike protein, even infecting people who got their booster shot.
But MacBride reports that “three studies and a preprint all point one way: The protection afforded by two or three Covid-19 vaccines should protect the vast majority of people from hospitalization or death for at least six months or more.” Researchers say we have our immune cells to thank for this blanket of protection — you know what they say, a memory B-cell never forgets (...for at least six months).
Take a stab at it: Vaccines for cancer are already here
The 1996 movie Independence Day “was not the first alien invasion movie, nor was it the last, but its massive blockbuster success provides an opportunity to examine our real-life relationship with aliens — especially now that it’s streaming on HBO Max,” writes Tara Yarlagadda. “But is Independence Day accurate, like, at all?”
According to experts at the SETI Institute, the nonprofit that searches for aliens and is featured in Independence Day, kind of? SETI Institute senior astronomer Seth Shostak tells Inverse that, despite what the movie implies, he thinks “it's a pretty safe bet, just on the basis of the numbers, that no aliens know about homo sapiens, yet.” And even if they did, Yarlagadda reports that “Shostak doesn’t necessarily buy that intelligent extraterrestrial life would want to travel to our humble planet, let alone flatten our cities and destroy humanity.”
Ultimately, “Independence Day may not provide a great roadmap for us to beat the aliens,” writes Yarlagadda, “but it does reflect our lingering curiosity about what lurks in the vast depths of the cosmos.”
More “reel science”: The most useful ‘Star Wars’ invention reveals a real medical problem
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- On this day in history: Today is Steve Jobs’ birthday. The influential Apple Inc. co-founder was born February 24, 1955 in San Francisco, and despite his untimely death in 2011, the ripples of his innovation are still being felt today (this fact is brought to you by my MacBook Air!).
- Song of the day: “Computer Blue,” by Prince.