Earth’s stratosphere has been shrinking for 40 years. That could one day screw with orbiting satellites.

Clouds above earth
A band of subtropical stratocumulus clouds as seen from space.

About 7.5 miles above our heads, the stratosphere begins.

That slice of sky – where supersonic jets and weather balloons fly – stretches up to 31 miles above Earth’s surface. But according to new research, this layer of the atmosphere has shrunk by a quarter-mile in the last 40 years.

A study published last week in the journal Environmental Research Letters shows that humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions are behind the startling contraction.

As carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels enters the lowest level of the atmosphere – known as the troposphere – it traps some of the sunlight that hits Earth as that light is being reflected back into space. That’s why the planet’s temperature is rising. The more emissions rise, the more heat from the sun stays trapped on Earth and the less it can warm the stratosphere as it travels spaceward. So the stratosphere is cooling.

As the stratosphere cools, it shrinks (as most materials do). Between the 1960s and mid-2010s, it cooled by up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius). If global greenhouse-gas emissions continue at their current level or increase, that shrinkage is expected to continue.

The new study suggests that the stratosphere will get almost a mile thinner by 2080 – about a 4% decrease from its average thickness between 1980 and 2018.

That thinning could eventually mess with GPS navigational systems, radio communications, or the trajectories of orbiting satellites.

A contracting atmosphere

earth atmosphere
An image taken from the space station shows the limb of the Earth transitioning into the orange-colored stratosphere.

Imagine Earth’s atmosphere as a decadent, layered trifle cake.

The troposphere is closest layer to the planet, a 7.5-mile band where most of our weather happens, and where commercial airplanes fly. It meets the stratosphere above it at a boundary known as the tropopause.

On the stratosphere’s other side is the mesosphere, which extends 50 miles up; the boundary between those two layers is called the stratopause. Then comes the upper atmosphere, reaching 440 miles high. That includes the thermosphere, where satellites and the International Space Station orbit, and the ionosphere.

According to the new study, the boundaries on either side of the stratosphere – the tropopause and the stratopause – are getting to closer to each other, suggesting the stratosphere is being compressed. Since 1980, the altitude of the tropopause has been increasing, and the altitude of the stratopause has the been decreasing. Picture the filling of a whoopie pie gripped too tightly.

That trend, the researchers said, is expected to continue unless carbon emissions are sharply reduced. (Atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentrations hit a record high last year.)

“Carbon dioxide cools the stratosphere, and when the stratosphere cools, it actually shrinks the size of the atmosphere,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told Canada’s National Observer in 2016.

If you’re in the mesosphere about 50 miles up, he added, “you actually are seeing the sky falling – it’s going down by a number of kilometers.”

Bad news for orbiting satellites?

gps block iiia 3a satellite illustration
An illustration of a US military GPS satellite in orbit.

Satellites orbit Earth above the stratosphere, but because any change in one layer of the atmosphere can spell trouble for the others, a contracting stratosphere could impact those satellites.

“If (and it is a big if) the shrinking stratosphere were to lower all the atmospheric layers above it, low-altitude satellites would experience reduced air resistance, which could modify their trajectories,” Paul Williams, a professor of atmospheric science at Reading University in the UK who was not involved in the study, told The Times.

That modification could eventually wreak havoc on GPS satellites or other space-based navigation systems, according to the new study, perhaps making them less accurate.

High-frequency radio transmissions could also get screwed up, since this means of communication involves bouncing radio waves off charged particles in the ionosphere. That’s how airplane pilots talk to air traffic control towers in the northernmost regions of the planet where GPS doesn’t work, like the Arctic.

“Any change to the altitude of the electrically charged layer could alter the transmission of radio waves,” Williams said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Activists ask MacKenzie Scott to help fund their efforts to stop Amazon from building its Africa headquarters on sacred native land

mackenzie scott
MacKenzie Scott and Jeff Bezos divorced in 2019.

  • Activists in South Africa asked MacKenzie Scott to help them block Amazon from building on sacred lands.
  • Indigenous Khoi leaders say Amazon’s planned Africa headquarters would have harmful environmental and cultural impacts.
  • The group also wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, but said he hasn’t responded.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Barely two years after Amazon faced backlash over its elaborate public search for a “second” headquarters, the company’s plans to build its Africa headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa, are coming under fire.

This time, indigenous activists and other local community groups have criticized Amazon’s plans to set up its new campus on land that is environmentally and culturally sacred to the first nation Khoi people.

One of those groups, the Observatory Civic Association, is turning to a high-profile source for help in their fight to block the Amazon-led development: MacKenzie Scott, who divorced Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2019.

“We appeal to you to intervene to bring Amazon to its senses,” OCA chairperson Leslie London wrote in an open letter to Scott, adding: “If you wish to assist our struggle for justice in the courts, we will welcome your financial assistance.”

London said the group, which has partnered with more than 60 Khoi and other NGOs and civic groups, also wrote to Bezos, but that he didn’t respond.

Scott and Bezos could not be reached, and Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

The backlash concerns a planned mixed-use development in Cape Town called The River Club, which would span roughly 37 acres, with Amazon set to be the main tenant, according to South African news site IOL. While Cape Town city officials approved an initial concept for the project, it has faced fierce criticism from many native Khoi groups, according to the OCA’s letter and various media reports.

London wrote in her letter the proposed development disregards the history of the land, where the Khoi fought against colonial expeditions and land grabs by the Portuguese and Dutch.

“We think [Scott] can influence Bezos and Amazon to avoid making the biggest business mistake of their lives. Amazon will forever and irrevocably be associated with modern-day colonial dispossession,” London told IOL.

Other tech billionaires, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have faced criticism for attempts to acquire land originally occupied by indigenous people, with critics calling such moves examples of “neocolonialism.”

But the OCA said Amazon’s proposed headquarters also poses serious environmental concerns and would violate Cape Town’s established climate resilience policies, since it would involve pouring 150,000 square metres of concrete into a flood plain. (Concrete infilling can exacerbate the flood damage caused by heavy storms, for example, like what happened in Houston, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey).

The proposal as it currently stands, London wrote, “must surely be of deep concern to anyone who believes in a world where environmental protection, justice and heritage, particularly for First Nation groups, should be adequately considered in development decisions.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

How coral reefs made with human remains are restoring Florida’s coastline

  • A Florida company is allowing people to mix their loved ones’ cremated remains into “reef balls” that stimulate marine life.
  • The concrete balls could help restore dying coral reefs, which are home to 25% of marine life.
  • Eternal Reefs has provided almost 2,500 “green burials” this way over the past 20 years.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Read the original article on Business Insider

Why avocados are so expensive

  • Avocado has become one of the world’s trendiest foods, but they require an extraordinary amount of costly resources and labor in order to grow.
  • Avocado prices have rocketed in recent years by up to 129%, with the average national price of a single Hass avocado reaching $2.10 in 2019, almost doubling in just one year.
  • We break down what makes avocados so expensive.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Avocado has become one of the world’s trendiest foods. As the poster child of millennial healthy eating, this superfood is now a mainstay for foodies everywhere. But have you noticed your avo on toast is costing more and more? Avocado prices have rocketed in recent years by up to 129%, with the average national price of a single Hass avocado reaching $2.10 in 2019, almost doubling in just one year. So, why are avocados so expensive?

Archaeologists in Peru have found domesticated avocado seeds buried with Incan mummies dating back to 750 BC. But it was the Aztecs in 500 BC who named it āhuacatl, which translates to “testicle.” When Spanish conquistadors swept through Mexico and Central America in the 16th century, they renamed it aguacate. The farming of aguacate developed over the next few hundred years, predominantly in Central America and South America. But consumption of the “alligator pear” outside of these regions before the late 19th century was almost nonexistent.

The commercialization of aguacate began in the early 1900s but was focused on branding avocados as a delicacy for the wealthy, like this advert in The New Yorker from 1920, which declared them as “The aristocrat of salad fruit.” But a selection of Californian growers realized that the hard-to-pronounce aguacate was off-putting for the mass market, so they formed the California Avocado Association. By the 1950s, production scale grew, and avocado prices fell to about 25 cents each. Popularity increased further with the wave of inter-American immigration in the ’60s, as Latin Americans brought their love of avocados with them to the US. But as demand increased, supply had to keep up, and the true difficulties of yielding large-scale avocado crops began to show. Avocado orchards require an extraordinary amount of costly resources in order to flourish.

Gus Gunderson: There are multiple inputs that avocados require, whether it’s water, fertilizer, pruning, pest control, the sunburn protection of trees. All those go into making your chances better of having a very good-quality crop. When we decide to plant an avocado orchard, we’ll plant trees that come from certified nurseries. We have to place our orders years in advance. On average, if we’re producing 100,000 pounds per acre, that takes about a million gallons of water, so 100 gallons per pound, so it’d be about 50 gallons per 8-ounce fruit. But that’s dependent on what mother nature will throw at you, you know, we have wind, we have intense sun. It’s really hard for a grower to manage the unmanageable things that will affect a crop.

Narrator: The surge in popularity of avocados stalled during the fat-fighting frenzy of the 1980s, with an average of only 1 pound per capita being consumed in America by 1989. The decade’s low-fat obsession drove consumers away from avocado because of its high fat content, without really understanding the nutritional truth hidden within.

Hazel Wallace: When it comes to fat in food in general, people tend to get a little bit concerned because we often hear in the media that fat isn’t good for us. But the type of fat that’s in avocados is monounsaturated fat, which is actually often deemed healthy fat or heart-healthy fat, so while there is a lot of fat in avocados, it’s actually quite good fat.

Narrator: Avocado started its meteoric comeback at the turn of the millennium, and it was helped by an unlikely political decision. In 2005, the US Department of Agriculture lifted a 90-year-old ban to allow the importation of Mexican avocados to all 50 states. Initially, this decision angered Californian growers, who feared the move could slash local growers’ sales by as much as 20%.

Harold Edwards: What actually had transpired and took place was, as that Mexican supply became much more prevalent and available, retailers got behind marketing and selling avocados, food service providers, restaurants started putting it as permanent parts of their menus, and demand started to boom because the inconsistent supply chains before were now consistent, and consumers were allowed to enjoy avocados every day of the year.

Narrator: The biggest day of the avocado calendar became Super Bowl Sunday, when it’s now estimated that almost 200 million pounds of avocados are eaten during the big game in America. But if you take a moment to consider the resources needed to produce that amount, you can start to understand avocados’ elevated prices. According to experts, it takes roughly 270 liters of water to grow a pound of avocados. So 200 million pounds could require as much as 54 billion liters of water, which means droughts or heat waves can have devastating consequences on the avocado industry. In fact, that’s exactly what’s been happening in California for the last seven years, with the Sunshine State only recently being declared drought-free in 2019, which goes a long way to explaining record avocado prices. In some countries, like Chile, avocado cultivation is being blamed for exacerbating droughts, as lush green orchards overlook dry riverbeds.

Perhaps the biggest reason for avocados’ rise to dominance is the emergence of the clean-eating lifestyle. No longer just a chip dip for special occasions, this superfood can be found in a plethora of recipes in cafés and restaurants everywhere around the world. And those who are eating them are really keen for you to know about it. Just type #avocado into Instagram, and you’ll be hit with over 10 million search results. But is the glorification of avocado justified?

Wallace: There’s quite a big hype around avocados, but it actually is quite justified when it comes to how nutrient-dense this food is. There’s not many foods that actually replicate it in terms of a nutritional profile. When it comes to calling something a superfood, I’m not really for that label. Avocados are definitely a good food to include in your diet, but like I said, you’re not really missing out if you don’t like them or if you can’t eat them for any reason. Monounsaturated fats, we can find that in things like olive oil and olive, nuts, and seeds. The vitamins and minerals, we can find that in other green vegetables, so spinach and broccoli and things like that. So there’s ways of getting those nutrients in without having avocado.

Narrator: All of this produce requires an astonishing amount of labor. Even once grown, pruned, and picked, avocados need costly distribution methods in order to be delivered fresh and ripe to far-flung corners of the world.

Gunderson: If you’re living in Philadelphia, right? You wanna buy a ripe avocado in Philadelphia? What they do is they ship green avocados from California to Philadelphia, they send them to the ripening center, they warm them up and get ethylene in them, so they all ripen, and then, when they’re moved out to the retail stores, you’re actually buying something that’s almost ready to eat or ready to eat. ‘Cause if you were to buy a green avocado that’s shipped straight from California to your market, you would have to ripen it yourself over a seven- to 10-day period, and most consumers are a little more anxious for their avocado toast than waiting 10 days. [laughs]

Narrator: With prices so high, the commodity of avocados has attracted a spate of thefts from orchards and delivery trucks worldwide. In New Zealand, armed night patrols and electric fences have been introduced after a grower in Northland had 70% of his orchard stolen. There’s even further grim reading for avocado lovers. In Michoacán, where 80% of Mexico’s avocados originate, cartels run a so-called “blood avocado” trade, violently enforcing a nonnegotiable extortion fee from farmers based on the size of their land and the weight of their crop.

Some restaurants have begun an avocado boycott, as we all weigh the ethics behind our eating habits. Experts suggest that water shortages could affect 5 billion people by 2050, and rainfall in the so-called drought belt, which includes Mexico and South America, is predicted to decline. But whilst evidence of environmental degradation is mounting, the avocado industry is still growing along with consumer demand. In certain places, the sustainability of avocado production will become untenable.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

US honey still contains traces of the radioactive fallout of nuclear bomb testing in the 50s and 60s, study finds

nuke nuclear test Bikini Atoll Marshall 1954 50s bomb thermonuclear
150-megaton thermonuclear explosion, Bikini Atoll, March 1 1954.

  • Honey from the Eastern US shows traces of a cesium-137, a radioactive element.
  • A study traced this back to nuclear bomb testing that took place decades ago.
  • There is no risk to human health, but the honey can help locate “hot spots” of soil contamination.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US honey still carries traces of cesium-137 from atom bomb testing during the Cold War, according to a new study.

The levels of contamination in the honey are not high enough to cause damage to human health. But the research provides more information on the long-lasting effects of nuclear fallout on the environment.

The radioactive traces in honey were found by chance.

The led author of the study, geologist Jim Kaste of the William & Mary University in Williamsburg, Virginia, sent his students on a spring break assignment to measure radiation in food like nuts and fruit, Science Alert reported.

Most had faint traces of cesium-137, a radioactive element that is created by the nuclear reaction of uranium and plutonium which power atomic weapons.

The study said that the east coast of the US received an unusually high amount of fallout from nuclear weapons testing, and almost no cesium-137 from other sources like the Chernobyl meltdown.

When Kaste tested a jar of honey from a North Carolina farmers’ market, “my detector was bonkers,” Kaste said in a blog post.

To make honey, bees concentrate nectar from flowers into a liquid five times more concentrated. This has the effect of also concentrating any contaminants picked up by the plants.

For that reason it can be used to identify “hot spots” of pollutants.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communication on March 29, Kaste and colleagues mapped radioactivity levels for honey in the Eastern US.

Of the 122 honey samples tested, 68 showed detectable traces of the radioactive cesium, Science Alert reported.

They found that the honey in the that area had on average about 0.03 becquerels per kg, more than six decades after the bulks of the nuclear bomb tests.

This surprised the scientists as the half life of cesium-137 is 30 years, meaning that after so long most of the radioactivity ought to have dissipated.

The levels in eastern US honey were higher, compared with negligible levels of cesium-137 in four samples of honey from the central US and one from Cuba.

While none of the tests were particularly close to Virginia, the study said that lots of fallout ended up there because of weather patterns: prevailing winds and rain ended up carrying the particles thousands of miles.

Between 1951 and 1980, the equivalent of 440 megatons of explosive yield were blasted into the atmosphere, most of which were launched by the Soviet Union and the US. China, France, and the UK also ran tests.

More than 500 nuclear devices were exploded in the atmosphere in 13 testing sites around the world.

75% of the total explosive force from those bombs came from tests before 1963 at just two testing sites: the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean and the Novaya Zemlya in northern Russia.

Although it isn’t clear which of the explosions caused the contamination, the cesium-137 production from these bombs was “more than 400 times” higher than the production in New Mexico and Nevada, Kaste said in a blog post.

“What that did was put a blanket of these isotopes into the environment during a very narrow time window,” Kaste said in a blog post.

The radioactive elements, or radionuclides, fell down on the soil. By the early 1960s, almost everywhere on the planet had been exposed to the radioactive contaminants.

Because the contamination of the soil was ubiquitous, scientists use these radionuclides to date samples of soil to the 60s. Traces of fallout radionuclides are in glaciers all around the world and in deep sea trenches.

Scientists are concerned about the effect of the the longer-lived radioactive elements, like cesium, on the environment. This has been poorly studied so far, the scientists said in the study.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg backs Biden’s infrastructure bill, says ‘we’re still coasting on infrastructure choices’ from the 1950s

Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg at a press conference in February.

  • Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg is helping rally support for Biden’s infrastructure plan.
  • Buttigieg said on Sunday the American Jobs Plan represented “a generational investment.”
  • The plan aims for upgrades in everything from roads and bridges to public schools and airports.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday promoted President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, making the case that the legislation would be transformational for the country.

During an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Buttigieg said the American Jobs Plan represented “a generational investment” that would produce “economic growth that’s going to go on for years and years.”

“Infrastructure is the foundation that makes it possible for Americans to thrive,” he said. “And what we know is that foundation has been crumbling.

Buttigieg made the argument that the current transportation network, built up decades ago, has to meet the needs of a modern society.

“We’re still coasting on infrastructure choices that were made in the 1950s,” he said. “Now’s our chance to make infrastructure choices for the future that are going to serve us well in the 2030s and onto the middle of the century when we will be judged for whether we meet this moment here in the 2020s.”

Biden’s massive plan includes $621 billion in transportation infrastructure investments, with direct funding for road and bridge repairs, improvements in Amtrak passenger train service, lead pipe repairs, port and airport funding, and public school improvements, among other long-awaited projects.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is seeking to have a bill passed sometime in July, but the legislation’s fate also rests in the hands of the Senate, which the party only narrowly controls.

While Biden is seeking Republican input on the bill, Democrats have not ruled out passing an infrastructure package through the reconciliation process, which would only require a party-line vote.

Read more: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

In order to pay for the plan, Biden hopes to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, which congressional Republicans vehemently oppose.

GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky last week said that in its current form, Biden’s infrastructure bill will be a hard sell for his caucus, especially if it is funded with “a combination of massive tax increases on businesses and individuals, and more borrowing.”

“I think that package they’re putting together now, as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side,” he said.

GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said on ABC’s “This Week” earlier on Sunday that a smaller infrastructure bill could be “a bipartisan, easy win” for the president.

“The other 70 or so percent of the package that doesn’t have very much to do with infrastructure, if you want to force that in a partisan way, you can still do that,” he added.

Buttigieg, along with Housing and Urban Development secretary Marcia Fudge, Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm, Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo, and Labor secretary Marty Walsh, have been tasked with helping rally support behind the plan.

Buttigieg emphasized during the Sunday interview that Biden’s plan would not only repair aging US transportation networks, but would strengthen the country’s economic standing and position it as a leader on climate change.

“America will be much more economically competitive, we’ll be stronger in terms of leading the world because of the research and development investments that are here, and we will be on track to avoid climate disaster because of the provisions for things like electric vehicles,” he said.

He added: “Those electric vehicles that more and more people around the world are driving will be increasingly made in America by union workers. This is what you get for planning for the long term.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

What if the Earth spun sideways on its axis

Following is a transcript of the video.

Early in the history of our solar system, something mysteriously knocked Earth slightly off its axis. So today we tilt at 23.5 degrees. But what would happen if we tilted even more? What if Earth spun sideways on its axis? Well, it wouldn’t take long before utter chaos ensued.

One of the most important consequences of Earth’s axial tilt is the seasons. Seasons happen because the tilt points different parts of the planet toward the sun at different times of the year. But the tilt also means that different parts of the globe receive different amounts of sunlight during each season. And that’s where a more extreme tilt starts to cause problems. Right now, during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, places far north, like Utqiagvik, Alaska, receive 24 hours of sunlight for 82 days straight. Because Earth is tilted far enough on its axis that as the planet rotates, Utqiagvik never leaves direct sunlight. On the other hand, the contiguous US receives a max of 17 hours a day, because after that it rotates out of daytime sunlight and into night. But if we tilted Earth’s axis even more, to 90 degrees, the US would get sunlight 24/7, around the clock, for months on end. And it’s not just the US; the entire Northern Hemisphere would be like this.

At first, animals would take advantage of the extra light to find and eat more food, just like Alaskan birds, which feed their chicks extra nutrition in the summer, resulting in faster-growing babies than their southern counterparts. And plant growth would explode since they get their energy directly from sunlight. Farms in northern Alaska, for example, grow cabbages the size of rottweilers in the summer.

But while animals and plants would thrive, humans wouldn’t. We evolved to be active during the day and sleep at night. But if we were exposed to unending sunlight, our brains would stop producing the hormone melatonin, which we need to sleep at night. And that could lead to sleep deprivation, depression, and, ultimately, a more severe, chronic version of these symptoms called seasonal affective disorder, which already affects 9% of Alaskans, compared to just 6% of the entire United States.

But that’s less of a worry than the floods. Temperatures at the North Pole would more than double, to 38 degrees Celsius from 15.5 degrees Celsius. That’s hotter than temperatures at the equator today. As a result, Greenland’s ice cap would melt, causing sea levels to rise by 7 meters, and flood nearly every coastal city on Earth. Say goodbye to New York, Copenhagen, and Tokyo. To make matters worse, the warmer seas would trigger stronger and more frequent hurricanes, which form when seawater evaporates at the surface.

And the weather wouldn’t get better when winter comes six months later. Out of reach of the sun’s direct beams for months at a time, the hemisphere would get colder than any winter on record. Swirls of frigid air, called a polar vortex, which are normally dissipated by warm air in the tropics, could travel all the way down to the equator. Imagine blizzards in Florida, Brazil, Kenya! And all those thriving plants, they’d die from a lack of sunlight. Agriculture would collapse as ecosystems crumble and mass extinctions pile up.

And there would be even more floods, because meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere is getting toasty and the South Pole is home to 90% of the world’s ice. The constant sunlight would raise its temperature to 38 degrees Celsius from -28 degrees Celsius, melting the ice and raising sea levels by a whopping 61 meters. That’s almost as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Greenland’s flood would look like a puddle in comparison.

So all in all, while a few extra hours in the summer sun would be nice, let’s leave the extra seasons to Alaska and be glad the Earth is tilted exactly as it is.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

After a massive iceberg broke away from Antarctica, it revealed a long-hidden world of creatures on the seafloor

polarstern brunt ice shelf AWI
The research vessel Polarstern in the gap between iceberg A74 (right) and Brunt Ice Shelf (left).

  • Last month, an iceberg the size of Los Angeles, called A74, broke off of Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf and floated away.
  • Researchers aboard the Polarstern vessel happened to be nearby, so they investigated the area of the seafloor that had been covered by the iceberg, half a mile down.
  • They found marine creatures that had been hidden for decades, including anemones, sea stars, sponges, marine worms, fish, and sea pigs. They also collected samples.
  • The researchers captured hours of video footage and thousands of underwater images. A selection of their most interesting photos are below.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The researchers aboard the Polarstern research vessel found themselves in the right place at the right time last month. They were sailing near Antarctica’s northern rim when a giant iceberg broke off the continent.

brunt ice shelf
Crew members of the Polarstern prepare to deploy an underwater camera system.

The ship was some 3,000 miles from the southernmost tip of South America, not far from the Brunt Ice Shelf, which is replete with giant, growing cracks. On February 26, one of those cracks tore through the shelf, and an iceberg of more than 490 square miles (1,270 square kilometers) splintered off. This known as a calving event.

The iceberg, named A74, is about the size of Los Angeles, and more than 20 times the size of Manhattan. As it moved away from Antarctica, it revealed a part of the sea floor that hadn’t seen sunlight in 50 years.

polarstern brunt ice shelf AWI
A view of the gap between iceberg A74 (right) and the Brunt Ice Shelf, where new ice has started to form.

The Polarstern crew waited for strong winds in the area to abate, then entered the gap between the A74 and the ice shelf on March 13. The scientists’ goal: investigate the portion of the Weddell Sea bed that had been covered by up to 1,000 feet of thick ice for decades.

The Polarstern crew deployed a camera instrument called the Ocean Floor Observation and Bathymetry System, or OFOBS.

brunt ice shelf
Crew members of the Polarstern prepare to submerge the Ocean Floor Observation and Bathymetry System.

They towed it behind the the ship on a long cable, submerging the OFOBS up to half a mile under the surface.

The OFOBS recorded five hours of footage and took thousands of photos.

The crew also deployed buoys that could measure the temperature and salt content of the water in the newly created gap. Data from the buoys could tell scientists how quickly that part of the Antarctic is warming.

Once OFOBS reached the sea floor, it spotted various creatures living among stones that had tumbled into the water from the ice shelf above.

polarstern brunt ice shelf AWI
A sea anemone attached to a stone under the Antarctic ice.

Most of the creatures the cameras spotted were sessile animals: organisms like anemones that attach themselves to rocks or the ocean floor and don’t move.

Most of the species were filter feeders, like sea sponges.

polarstern brunt ice shelf AWI
A sea sponge nearly a foot wide is affixed to a small seafloor stone.

These immobile creatures eat microscopic algae and other tiny organic particles in the water that float near their stony abodes.

According to Autun Purser, a member of the OFOBS team, the presence of these filter feeders wasn’t a surprise. But some of the findings shocked his team.

brunt ice shelf
A 1.5-foot-wide stone heavily populated by filter feeding animals, including large sponges.

“I was expecting fewer, larger filter feeding animals (sponges mainly),” Purser, an oceanic researcher with the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, told Insider via email from aboard the Polarstern.

That expectation was based, in part, on findings from a group of British researchers that also drilled more than half a mile into the ice shelf last month, 162 miles from the area Purser’s team was exploring. That team found sponges living on stones under the ice.

Purser’s team was startled to see many creatures swimming around, rather than staying stationary.

polarstern brunt ice shelf AWI
A marine worm leaves a spiral trail of poop on the sea floor.

“I was not expecting to see octopus and fish, or many mobile animals, and they were actually there,” he said.

The OFOBS spotted sea cucumbers, brittle sea stars, mollusks, worms, at least five fish species, and two types of octopus.

polarstern brunt ice shelf AWI
A stone housing a brittle sea star, or ophiuroid. The white curled features are the starfish’s arms, raised to help it capture prey and food.

Using a grabbing device aboard the OFOBS, the scientists collected specimens of some of the creatures, as well as silt from sea floor.

The OFOBS also glimpsed a cute type of sea cucumber called a sea pig.

brunt ice shelf sea pigs
Sea pigs, or holothurians, feed on organic material on the ocean floor.

These translucent, water-filled creatures have tube-like legs — sometime on their heads — that help them scuttle about in the deepest, darkest parts of every ocean on the planet. 

It’s a bit of a mystery what, precisely, sustained this diverse, underwater ecosystem in the absence of sunlight. Most organic food stuffs and algae hang out in parts of the ocean where they have access to the light they need to survive.

polarstern brunt ice shelf AWI
An anemone surrounded by the poop trails of a long-departed marine worm.

By collecting more seafloor samples and visiting this area of the Weddell Sea again in the future, the Polarstern researchers hope to answer that question.

Purser said the team’s observations show that marine ecosystems can be quite diverse and abundant, even if there’s only a moderate amount of food available.

brunt ice shelf
A view of the Weddell Swa between the Brunt Ice Shelf and the A74 iceberg that broke off the shelf in February 2021.

“Possibly everything happens over a longer timeframe, animals more slowly growing, etc.,” he added. “But to determine if this is the case, repeat observations of the under-ice community, whilst still under ice, would be needed.”

The team hopes to one day use autonomous underwater robots to investigate parts of the ocean that were formerly trapped under the ice.

This isn’t the first time Antarctica has lost a giant iceberg, and it won’t be the last.

Brunt North Rift_12Jan2021_Andy Van Kints_02
A crack in the Brunt Ice Shelf that eventually birthed iceberg A74, as seen from the air on January 12, 2021.

“It is entirely natural for sections to calve away from ice shelves. As ice flows off the land, the ice shelf grows and eventually reaches a size which is unstable,” Adrian Luckman, a glaciologist at Swansea University in Wales, previously told Insider. “Some calving events are small and go unnoticed, but every few years a large one such as this happens.”

Researchers aboard the Polarstern said icebergs the size of A74 slough off every decade or so.

polarstern brunt ice shelf AWI
A TerraSAR-X satellite image of the A74 iceberg, left, in the Weddell Sea of Antarctica as it breaks off from the Brunt Ice Shelf.

In 2017, an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off the continent’s Larsen C Ice Shelf.

Luckman thinks another iceberg will break off the Brunt Ice Shelf in the coming weeks or months.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A new machine is helping French chefs recycle old bread into a flour substitute, and it could reduce food waste

  • A new machine called Le Crumbler is helping French chefs recycle old bread into a substitute for flour.
  • The machine was invented in 2015 by an urban planner who wanted to address food waste.
  • France forbids supermarkets from throwing out food, but 150,000 tons of bread are still tossed annually.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Read the original article on Business Insider