Tag Archives: The Atlantic

Why It’s a Bad Idea to Launch Rockets Over Land

On Friday morning in China, a rocket blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province with a pair of navigation satellites bound for orbit around Earth. As the rocket climbed higher and higher, the four strap-on boosters that launched with it began to fall away. This is supposed to happen; the boosters provide extra lift in the minutes after launch, and when they burn through their fuel, they separate and fall back down to Earth.

The satellites made it safely into orbit. But back on the ground, there were flames.

One of those four discarded boosters had landed near a town in the Guangxi region and exploded. Video captured by onlookers and shared on social media shows the booster falling from the … Read the rest

A Foreboding Similarity in Today’s Oceans and a 94-Million-Year-Old Catastrophe

The ocean is losing its oxygen. Last week, in a sweeping analysis in the journal Science, scientists put it starkly: Over the past 50 years, the volume of the ocean with no oxygen at all has quadrupled, while oxygen-deprived swaths of the open seas have expanded by the size of the European Union. The culprits are familiar: global warming and pollution. Warmer seawater both holds less oxygen and turbocharges the worldwide consumption of oxygen by microorganisms. Meanwhile, agricultural runoff and sewage drives suffocating algae blooms.

The analysis builds on a growing body of research pointing to increasingly sick seas pummeled by the effluent of civilization. In one landmark paper published last year, a research team led by the German oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko quantified for the … Read the rest

The Safe Way to Ride Your Bike in Winter

Even for many dedicated bike commuters, cycling in the worst parts of winter can be a step too far. For those of us who approach any physical activity with mixed emotions, the sight of snow on the ground is a perfect excuse to find any other way to get around. But still, in cities where cycling is common, bike lanes stay busy even when the snow is piling up.

Witness, for example, this image of commuters pedaling their way across a bridge in Copenhagen:

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Who Owns Urban Mobility Data?

How, exactly, should policymakers respond to the rapid rise of new private mobility services such as ride-hailing, dockless shared bicycles, and microtransit? As I argued here several months ago, in order to answer that question city leaders will need accurate and detailed information about all urban trips—however the traveler chose to get from one place to another. And that information needs to come in part from the private mobility companies that are moving a growing share of people within our cities.  

In 2017, these services had a tumultuous year. Apocalyptic images of discarded dockless bikes in China left American officials that are experimenting with this model for bikesharing scrambling to ensure their cities avoid the same fate. Meanwhile, Uber’s admission that it paid a $100,000 ransom Read the rest

Coral Reefs Are Bleaching Too Frequently to Recover

From the Arctic to the Amazon, almost no part of the world has been left untouched by the human-caused warming of the Earth’s climate system. But one ecosystem seems to be disintegrating faster than almost anywhere else: coral reefs, the tropical rainforests of the undersea world.   

A new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, quantifies this discipline-wide impression of a vast and fast-moving destruction. It brings together observations of 100 coral-reef sites around the world going back to 1980, and it finds that severe bleaching events are far more common now than they were 35 years ago.

“I do not like to say: Reefs will die. But we will not have reefs as we currently have them,” says Howard Lasker, a professor of ecology … Read the rest

Treating Disease by Nudging the Microbes Inside Us

In the final decades of the 19th century, scientists showed in rapid succession that many of the worst diseases to afflict humanity were the work of bacteria—germs. Leprosy, gonorrhea, diphtheria, tuberculosis, plague, cholera, dysentery: Barely a year went by without assigning an infamous illness to a newly identified microbe. This concept, where one germ causes one disease, has influenced the way we think about infections ever since, and it implies an obvious solution: Remove the bug, and cure the sickness.

But the links between microbes and poor health can be more complicated. Our bodies are naturally home to tens of trillions of bacteria. Most are benign, or even beneficial. But often, these so-called microbiomes can shift into a negative state. For example, inflamed guts tend to … Read the rest

Ancient Infant’s DNA Reveals New Clues to How the Americas Were Peopled

Around 11,500 years ago, at a place that is now called the Upward Sun River, in the region that has since been named Alaska, two girls died. One was a late-term fetus; the other, probably her cousin, was six weeks old. They were both covered in red ochre and buried in a circular pit, along with hunting weapons made from bones and antlers. “There was intentionality in the burial ceremony,” says Ben Potter from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, who uncovered their skeletons in 2013. “These were certainly children who were well-loved.”

Now, several millennia after their short lives ended, these infants have become important all over again. Within their DNA, Potter’s team has found clues about when and how the first peoples came to … Read the rest