Scientists call for decade of concerted effort to enhance understanding of the deep seas

Scientists call for decade of concerted effort to enhance understanding of the deep seas
A close-up image of a bamboo coral called Acanella arbuscula taken from ~1000m deep in the North East Atlantic Credit: NERC funded Deep Links Project (University of Plymouth, Oxford University, JNCC, BGS)

The deep seas—vast expanses of water and seabed hidden more than 200 meters below the ocean surface to depths up to 11,000 meters—are recognized globally as an important frontier of science and discovery.


But despite the fact they account for around 60% of Earth’s surface area, large areas remain completely unexplored, yet the habitats they support impact on the health of the entire planet.

Now an international team of scientists, spanning 45 institutions in 17 countries, has called for a dedicated decade-long program of research to greatly advance discovery in these remote regions.

The program—which scientists have named Challenger 150—will coincide with the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which runs from 2021-2030.

Challenger 150 will generate new geological, physical, biogeochemical, and biological data through a global cooperative of science and innovation, including the application of new technology. These data will be used to understand how changes in the deep sea impact the wider ocean and life on the planet.

Among its key areas of focus are to build greater capacity and diversity in the scientific community, acknowledging the fact that existing deep-sea research is conducted primarily by developed nations with access to resources and infrastructure.

The program will use this new knowledge of the deep to support regional, national, and international decision-making on deep-sea issues such as mining, hydrocarbon extraction, fishing, climate mitigation, laying of fiber optic cables and conservation.

The international team presented the rationale behind the call for action in a comment article in Nature Ecology and Evolution, simultaneously publishing a detailed blueprint of how the actions can be best achieved in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Led by members of the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), the authorship reflects both the gender and geographical diversity such a program demands, with authors from the six inhabited continents of the world.

They note that the UN Decade provides an unrivaled opportunity to unite the international science community to deliver a giant leap in our knowledge of the deep seas.

Scientists call for decade of concerted effort to enhance understanding of the deep seas
An outcrop of rock makes a perfect home for many different cold water coral species Credit: NERC funded Deep Links Project (University of Plymouth, Oxford University, JNCC, BGS)

Kerry Howell, Professor of Deep-Sea Ecology at the University of Plymouth (UK) and lead author of the research publications, said: “The deep seas and seabed are increasingly being used by society, and they are seen as a potential future asset for the resources they possess. But managing these resources sustainably requires that we first understand deep-sea ecosystems and their role in our planet, its people and its atmosphere. Our vision is for a 10 year program of science and discovery that is global in scale and targeted towards proving the science to inform decisions around deep-ocean use. We

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First light on a next-gen astronomical survey toward a new understanding of the cosmos

First light on a next-gen astronomical survey toward a new understanding of the cosmos
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s fifth generation made its first observations earlier this month. This image shows a sampling of data from those first SDSS-V data. The central sky image is a single field of SDSS-V observations. The purple circle indicates the telescope’s field-of-view on the sky, with the full Moon shown as a size comparison. SDSS-V simultaneously observes 500 targets at a time within a circle of this size. The left panel shows the optical-light spectrum of a quasar–a supermassive black hole at the center of a distant galaxy, which is surrounded by a disk of hot, glowing gas. The purple blob is an SDSS image of the light from this disk, which in this dataset spans about 1 arcsecond on the sky, or the width of a human hair as seen from about 21 meters (63 feet) away. The right panel shows the image and spectrum of a white dwarf –the left-behind core of a low-mass star (like the Sun) after the end of its life. Credit: Hector Ibarra Medel, Jon Trump, Yue Shen, Gail Zasowski, and the SDSS-V Collaboration. Central background image: unWISE/NASA/JPL-Caltech/D.Lang (Perimeter Institute).

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s fifth generation collected its very first observations of the cosmos at 1:47 a.m. on October 24, 2020. This groundbreaking all-sky survey will bolster our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies—including our own Milky Way—and the supermassive black holes that lurk at their centers.


The newly-launched SDSS-V will continue the path-breaking tradition set by the survey’s previous generations, with a focus on the ever-changing night sky and the physical processes that drive these changes, from flickers and flares of supermassive black holes to the back-and-forth shifts of stars being orbited by distant worlds. SDSS-V will provide the spectroscopic backbone needed to achieve the full science potential of satellites like NASA’s TESS, ESA’s Gaia, and the latest all-sky X-ray mission, eROSITA.

“In a year when humanity has been challenged across the globe, I am so proud of the worldwide SDSS team for demonstrating—every day—the very best of human creativity, ingenuity, improvisation, and resilience. It has been a challenging period for the team, but I’m happy to say that the pandemic may have slowed us, but it has not stopped us,” said SDSS-V Director Juna Kollmeier.

As an international consortium, SDSS has always relied heavily on phone and digital communication. But adapting to exclusively virtual communication tactics was a challenge, as was tracking global supply chains and laboratory availability at various university partners while they shifted in and out of lockdown during the final ramp-up to the survey’s start. Particularly inspiring were the project’s expert observing staff, who worked in even-greater-than-usual isolation to shut down, and then reopen, operations at the survey’s mountain-top observatories.

Funded primarily by member institutions, along with grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation, SDSS-V will focus on three primary areas of investigation, each exploring different aspects of the cosmos using different spectroscopic tools. Together

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Next-gen astronomical survey makes its first observations toward a new understanding of the cosmos

Next-gen astronomical survey makes its first observations toward a new understanding of the cosmos
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s fifth generation made its first observations earlier this month. This image shows a sampling of data from those first SDSS-V data. The central sky image is a single field of SDSS-V observations. The purple circle indicates the telescope’s field-of-view on the sky, with the full Moon shown as a size comparison. SDSS-V simultaneously observes 500 targets at a time within a circle of this size. The left panel shows the optical-light spectrum of a quasar–a supermassive black hole at the center of a distant galaxy, which is surrounded by a disk of hot, glowing gas. The purple blob is an SDSS image of the light from this disk, which in this dataset spans about 1 arcsecond on the sky, or the width of a human hair as seen from about 21 meters (63 feet) away. The right panel shows the image and spectrum of a white dwarf –the left-behind core of a low-mass star (like the sun) after the end of its life. Credit: Hector Ibarra Medel, Jon Trump, Yue Shen, Gail Zasowski, and the SDSS-V Collaboration. Central background image: unWISE / NASA/JPL-Caltech / D.Lang (Perimeter Institute)

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s fifth generation collected its very first observations of the cosmos at 1:47 a.m. on October 24, 2020. This groundbreaking all-sky survey will bolster our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies—including our own Milky Way—and the supermassive black holes that lurk at their centers.


The newly-launched SDSS-V will continue the path-breaking tradition set by the survey’s previous generations, with a focus on the ever-changing night sky and the physical processes that drive these changes, from flickers and flares of supermassive black holes to the back-and-forth shifts of stars being orbited by distant worlds. SDSS-V will provide the spectroscopic backbone needed to achieve the full science potential of satellites like NASA’s TESS, ESA’s Gaia, and the latest all-sky X-ray mission, eROSITA.

“In a year when humanity has been challenged across the globe, I am so proud of the worldwide SDSS team for demonstrating—every day—the very best of human creativity, ingenuity, improvisation, and resilience. It has been a challenging period for the team, but I’m happy to say that the pandemic may have slowed us, but it has not stopped us,” said SDSS-V Director Juna Kollmeier.

As an international consortium, SDSS has always relied heavily on phone and digital communication. But adapting to exclusively virtual communication tactics was a challenge, as was tracking global supply chains and laboratory availability at various university partners while they shifted in and out of lockdown during the final ramp-up to the survey’s start. Particularly inspiring were the project’s expert observing staff, who worked in even-greater-than-usual isolation to shut down, and then reopen, operations at the survey’s mountain-top observatories.

Funded primarily by member institutions, along with grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation, SDSS-V will focus on three primary areas of investigation, each exploring different aspects of the cosmos using

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New model that describes the organization of organisms could lead to a better understanding of biological processes

The order of life
Particles of two types (red and green) interact with each other. While particles of the same type inevitably experience reciprocal attraction or repulsion, particles of different types can interact non-reciprocally. Here the green particles chase the red particles. On a large scale, the highly compressed bands of the green particles chase the bands of the red particles. This creates order and movement in the system. Credit: MPIDS / Novak, Saha, Agudo-Canalejo, Golestanian

At first glance, a pack of wolves has little to do with a vinaigrette. However, a team led by Ramin Golestanian, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, has developed a model that establishes a link between the movement of predators and prey and the segregation of vinegar and oil. They expanded a theoretical framework that until now was only valid for inanimate matter. In addition to predators and prey, other living systems such as enzymes or self-organizing cells can now be described.


Order is not always apparent at first glance. If you ran with a pack of wolves hunting deer, the movements would appear disordered. However, if the hunt is observed from a bird’s eye view and over a longer period of time, patterns become apparent in the movement of the animals. In physics, such behavior is considered orderly. But how does this order emerge? The Department of Living Matter Physics of Ramin Golestanian is dedicated to this question and investigates the physical rules that govern motion in living or active systems. Golestanian’s aim is to reveal universal characteristics of active, living matter. This includes not only larger organisms such as predators and prey but also bacteria, enzymes and motor proteins as well as artificial systems such as micro-robots. “When we describe a group of such active systems over great distances and long periods of time, the specific details of the systems lose importance. Their overall distribution in space ultimately becomes the decisive characteristic,” explains Golestanian.

From inanimate to living system

His team in Göttingen has recently made a breakthrough in describing living matter. To achieve this, Suropriya Saha, Jaime Agudo-Canalejo, and Ramin Golestanian started with the well-known description of the behavior of inanimate matter and expanded it. The main point was to take into account the fundamental difference between living and inanimate matter. In contrast to inanimate, passive matter, living, active matter can move on its own. Physicists use the Cahn-Hilliard equation to describe how inanimate mixtures such as an emulsion of oil and water separate.

The characterization developed in the 1950s is considered the standard model of phase separation. It is based on the principle of reciprocity: Tit for tat. Oil thus repels water in the same way as water repels oil. However, this is not always the case for living matter or active systems. A predator pursues its prey, while the prey tries to escape from the predator. Only recently has it been shown that there is non-reciprocal (i.e. active) behavior even in the movement of the smallest systems such as

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How Civics Education Is Important For Public Understanding Of Health And Science

In Building better citizens, Holly Korbey argues that civics education—educating students about basic factual knowledge and how to be an effective citizen—has never been more important as more and more people can’t distinguish between real and fake news. As Korbey aptly notes, “With so much misinformation flooding the internet, it suddenly feels like we are debating the very existence of scientific truth itself.” Basically, in order to have a democracy we need to be able to agree on the same set of facts, and in health and science at present that seems more important than ever. What follows is a brief interview with Korbey about what civics education is, why it has been neglected, and how can improve health and science literacy.

How do you define civics education and why is it so important? 

Civics education, quite literally, is learning how to be a citizen. In the book, I take a look at what means—what you need to know to be an effective citizen in the 21st century. That includes learning about history and geography and how our government is set up, which is what traditionalists would call the basics of civics. But I argue that there’s more to it than that to live in our 24/7, globalized, multiracial and multicultural, completely digital America. To be a responsible citizen today, you also have to know how to find reliable sources of news, how to determine fact from fiction, and how to talk and listen to others you may disagree with in our incredibly polarized political climate. It’s not a case of either/or, you have to have both. 

The reason it’s important, essential is the word I would use, is because in a democracy the power rests with the people. The president, Congress, ultimately they’re not the “deciders” – the people are. And as Sandra Day O’Connor has famously said, Americans aren’t born knowing how to live in a democracy. Each generation must be taught history and the Constitution, as well as the rights and responsibility they have to decide the fate of the nation.

Why has civics education largely been neglected? 

Civics ed began being neglected in the second half of the 20th century—before that it was the original mission for starting the public schools! But several things happened: the launch of Sputnik and the space race created a sense that schools weren’t focusing enough on STEM subjects. Schools’ missions really changed from training young citizens to enter democracy to preparing students for college and career. And then the school

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Understanding how a catalyst converts methane into ethene could prevent the flaring of natural gas

methane
Photo of landfill burn off flare. Credit: Eddie Hagler/Public Domain

It would be a triple win—for the climate, raw material resources, and the chemical industry. With their work, scientists at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin hope to create the basis for extracting useful chemical products such as plastics from the methane that is usually flared off during oil production. They are looking into how to design a catalyst that converts methane into ethene more efficiently than is currently possible. They have now found a ground-breaking clue.


Around 140 billion cubic meters of methane, which escapes during global oil production, are flared every year. This is considerably more than the estimated 90 billion cubic meters of natural gas that Germany consumed in 2019. This not only fuels climate change but also wastes a non-renewable fossil fuel. However, it would not be profitable to build pipelines or liquefaction plants for the relatively small quantities of methane extracted incidentally at individual oil production sites. It would, however, be worthwhile to transport the methane if it could be economically converted into substances that are of interest to the chemical industry. One such substance is ethene, the starting material for polyethylene and many other products. These are produced almost exclusively from crude oil. Unfortunately, the chemical reaction that converts methane directly into ethene proceeds at high temperatures. “This not only costs a lot of energy, but also results in a large proportion of the methane combusting to form the undesirable by-product CO2,” says Annette Trunschke, research group leader at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society. “So it doesn’t quite make sense yet.”

Sodium is the essential component

The chemist and her team want to change this. That’s why they have set their sights on the decisive component of the process: the catalyst made of sodium, manganese, tungsten, and silicon. This facilitates the chemical conversion of methane into ethene—although so far only at 700°C. In order to develop catalysts that work at lower temperatures (i.e. with less energy input) and promote only the formation of the desired products, chemists first need to know what is important in a catalyst for this reaction. According to the research of Trunschke’s group, this essential component is sodium.

“Until now, there have been several theories about which element in the catalyst is crucial for converting methane into ethene,” says Trunschke. “It came as a bit of a surprise that sodium, of all things, was the important component because it should actually evaporate at the high temperatures of the reaction “. However, the research has revealed something else. At high temperatures, the alkali metal is converted into the catalytically active sodium oxide. The oxide is released only for a short time and in minute quantities because of close interaction with the other components of the catalyst, and is thus prevented from evaporating. “This makes it clear that the other components of the catalyst are needed only to release and stabilize

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Understanding when and how slope failure may occur

Post-wildfire hazards: Understanding when & how slope failure may occur
The aftermath of the 9 Jan. 2018 debris flows in Montecito, California. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Across the western U.S., severe wildfires fueled by tinder-dry vegetation have already burned more than 3.2 million hectares (8 million acres [as of the time of this press release])—an area the size of Maryland—in 2020, and nearly six times that area burned this year in Australia. And even though neither country’s worst-ever fire year is not yet over, concerns are already mounting regarding the next hazard these regions will face: dangerous and destructive debris flows.


Debris flows are fast-moving slurries of soil, rock, water, and vegetation that are especially perilous because they usually occur without any warning. Some debris flows are powerful enough to cart off everything in their paths, including trees, boulders , vehicles—and even homes.

Two years ago in Montecito, California, 23 people were killed and more than 400 homes damaged by a series of debris flows spawned by intense rain falling on hills scorched by what at the time had been the largest fire in California history.

To better understand the origin of these hazards, researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) studied slope failure at two sites in Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains. The first site burned in 2016 during the San Gabriel Complex fire, whereas a second, nearby site was charred during the 2014 Colby fire. The findings, presented Wednesday during the annual meeting of The Geological Society of America, indicate there were major differences in slope failure between the first and the third years following incineration. The results will help inform land managers and residents about when and where debris flows and other types of slope failure are more likely to occur.

Post-wildfire hazards: Understanding when & how slope failure may occur
Debris flow damage in California. Credit: Susan Cannon, U.S. Geological Survey

“In the first year after each fire, we observed debris flows generated by rainfall runoff,” says Francis Rengers, a USGS research geologist who led the study. “But as we continued monitoring, we were surprised to see that a storm with a higher rainfall intensity than the first year’s storms, resulted in more than 280 shallow landslides, rather than debris flows, in the third year.”

In contrast to debris flows, which have fluid-like behavior, landslides glide as cohesive masses along a rupture plane. The researchers, including scientists from the University of Arizona, the Desert Research Institute, the USGS, and the German Research Centre (GFZ) believe this difference is due to changes in how much water can infiltrate into the ground during storms that follow wildfires. Because severe wildfires make soils more water-repellent, Rengers says, rainfall tends to run off burned ground. “If water is not soaking in,” he explains, “it’s flowing over the surface.” By removing ground cover, wildfires also reduce a hillslope’s roughness, which helps the slurry pick up speed. Incineration can also allow rainfall on bare soil to create what he calls a “surface seal” that further increases runoff.

Because landslides have much shorter runouts than debris flows, they pose different hazards. “The landslides

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