By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor
As a cartoon-loving kid in the early ‘90s, my pop culture experience was packed with shows featuring strong environmental themes, from Captain Planet to Fern Gully. As such, few things could get my young heart racing more than news about that ominous real-life villain known as the ozone hole. The hole over Antarctica was a cautionary tale: It was clearly created by chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs) spewed into the atmosphere by human activities. Even after the chemicals were phased out of use in 1989, the existing gases remained in the air, and the hole kept appearing. That’s probably why I felt such a huge wave of relief when, in 2016, it looked like the ozone hole was finally starting to heal, and the CFC problem seemed to be wrapping up.
Not so fast, argues a recent paper in the journal Nature. While we were all watching that pesky ozone hole to the south, CFCs were apparently doing a different kind of harm to the northern polar realm. Based on new data crunched in their climate model, the paper authors argue that CFCs are likely what's caused the Arctic to warm even faster than the rest of the planet under the influence of climate change. CFCs are, after all, potent greenhouse gases.
One shred of optimism: since the phase-out, CFCs have been on the decline, so perhaps this Arctic amplification soon will be, too.
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Your Instagram photo of the day
Meet Susan Potter: When she was alive, she offered her body to the Visible Human Project. “I’m going to be dead in a year,” the octogenarian told the young physicians, to whom she taught the importance of delivering care with compassion. It took 15 years before she became this specimen, wrapped in baby blue polyvinyl to withstand freezer burn. Susan’s body will become a virtual version of herself, transformed into 27,000 slices that will be photographed and digitized in Susan Potter, the database, an educational mission that will transcend her lifetime. This photograph was chosen as one of the 15 most resonant Nat Geo images of the decade.
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Today in a minute
Coronavirus update: Hong Kong has imposed a quarantine as deaths in China near 500 from the coronavirus outbreak. More than 24,000 people have been infected so far, based on latest figures given by authorities in China, the New York Times reports.
A new war: Most people in Afghanistan are farmers or earn income from agriculture. In a country that has seen warfare for decades, most conflicts are over land, water, and resources. Experts say the nation is one of the least equipped to handle the worsening extreme weather of a warming world, reports Sophia Jones for Nat Geo. Inside one refugee tent camp, a mother recalled her own childhood amid once-plentiful fields of wheat. “We were free,” Fatemeh says, holding the tiny hand of her 4-year-old daughter, Fariba, tightly. “I want my daughter to have that same feeling.”
How many calories do almonds have? Nutritionists can’t really make up their minds. It used to be 170 per serving. Then 130. Now, less. What’s the problem? In short, researchers suspect that more of the nutrients in nuts aren’t fully digested—and may be expelled in the bathroom—than previously estimated, the Associated Press reports.
Electromagnetic sensitivity: It’s not a medically acceptable diagnosis, and it was pooh-poohed by 5G-pushing tech companies before Congress, but the World Health Organization says that a few people per million are getting sick from their electronic devices. “Symptoms range from tingling and burning sensations to fatigue, concentration difficulties, nausea, and digestive disturbances,” WIRED reports.
The struggling Mekong: The river that has always provided for 60 million people in Southeast Asia is at a breaking point, says fish biologist and National Geographic Explorer Zeb Hogan. Last year, the river’s waters dropped to the lowest in a century. The water has changed to an ominous color and begun filling with globs of algae. Fish in the Mekong, the world’s largest inland fishery, are emaciated. During times of drought, China, which operates 11 dams on its part of the river, controls the flow, Stefan Lovgren reports for Nat Geo.
This week in the night sky
Luna glides: As soon as darkness falls on Saturday night, face the eastern sky and watch for the moon to make a close approach to the bright star Regulus—the heart of Leo, the lion constellation. Regulus is a blue giant star many times larger than our own sun that is about 77 light-years from Earth. Saturday night’s view will be special, with the waning gibbous moon parked near the bottom of the “giant sickle” pattern of stars that represents the neck and head of Leo. Ancient Egyptians who worshipped lion gods believed the annual rise of the Nile River occurred at a time when the sun rose inside Leo. This link to the Nile may explain why Greek and Romans later placed the familiar lion’s head at springs and fountains. —Andrew Fazekas
The big takeaway
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The last glimpse
Trippy. Cool. Dangerous? This image shows the geometric patterns formed when ice freezes from the surface, trapping gases like methane and carbon dioxide below. While beautiful, the work of photographer Ryota Kajita also reveals what’s at stake when ice melts—the release of these bubbles of climate-warming gases. “Everything,” Nat Geo’s Patricia Edmonds quotes Kajita as saying, “even if it appears to be insignificant, connects to the larger aspects of our Earth.”
Subscriber exclusive: Bubbles trapped in Alaska ice are a mesmerizing, terrifying warning