2020 Science Headline News
1-31-20 WHO declares coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency
The virus that began in China has now been reported in 18 other countries and caused 170 deaths . The outbreak of a novel coronavirus that began in China is now a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization said January 30, as the death toll rose to 170. Eight cases of human-to-human transmission have been reported in four countries outside of China, including the United States. Another 14 countries have also reported cases within their borders, WHO officials said in a telephone news conference. Declaring a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC for short, gives the WHO more clout in recommending how countries should respond to the virus threat. China, where most of the nearly 8,000 cases have been reported, has locked down cities that are home to at least 50 million people and is setting up special health facilities to treat the infected in Wuhan, where the outbreak began in December (SN:1/28/20). “We don’t know what kind of damage this virus could do if the virus spread throughout a country with a weaker health system” than China’s, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (Webmaster's comment: Or to a country with a ignorant anti-vaccine movement like the United States!) “For all these reasons, I’m declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of novel coronavirus.” U.S. health officials on January 30 reported the first instance of person-to-person transmission in the country, bringing the total number of cases to six. An Illinois woman diagnosed with the virus after returning from Wuhan has spread the virus to her husband, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both patients are in their 60s.
1-29-20 Can the coronavirus outbreak be contained?
Scientists are racing to answer questions about 2019-nCoV that might help control its spread. Since a new coronavirus outbreak began in December, Chinese officials have placed millions of people under quarantine, and international airports are screening travelers for signs of the illness in an effort to control its spread. But as scientists learn more about the new virus, which causes pneumonia, it’s unclear how effective these strategies will be at halting the epidemic. Cases of the virus, for now called 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, have rapidly increased since the outbreak was first announced. There are 4,587 confirmed cases of the disease in 16 countries, including 16 health care workers, as of January 28. At least 106 people, all in China, have died. U.S. officials are monitoring 110 people across 26 states for signs of infection, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced January 27 in a news conference. Those being monitored include people who recently traveled to Wuhan — the city at the center of the outbreak — and others they had direct contact with. So far, five people in the United States have tested positive for the new virus; 32 have tested negative. In response to the spiking case numbers, more than 50 million people in China are currently under lockdown, likely the largest quarantine in modern history. Although quarantine and isolation were effective strategies to end the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak, it’s unclear whether similar methods will be as effective for the new virus. Researchers are now scrambling to answer unknown questions about 2019-nCoV that might help control efforts, such as figuring out when people are contagious and how much the virus is changing as it passes from person to person.
1-29-20 New coronavirus looks set to cause a pandemic – how do we control it?
The new coronavirus may be about to go global. Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, Gabriel Leung at the University of Hong Kong said that without “substantial, draconian measures limiting population mobility” – even greater than the unprecedented transportation shutdown that China has already imposed – epidemics outside China “may become inevitable”. It could be too late. Leung and other epidemiologists calculate that there are far more cases in China than doctors have diagnosed, and by next week there may be 200,000. Computer models suggest that, as with flu, Ebola and SARS, travel restrictions may have little impact. One epidemiologist, however, thinks there may be hope in the variable way the virus is thought to spread, based on its close relatives SARS and MERS. Officially confirmed cases of the virus climbed to 5974 cases today, in 31 of China’s 33 provinces, up from 291 in three provinces a week ago. But that is likely to be a massive underestimate. Several research groups have used computer modelling to calculate a factor called the R0, the average number of people who catch the virus from each infected person, at between two and four. Data from clusters of cases also makes it possible to calculate the “generation” time that it takes an infected person to start transmitting the virus at eight days. But plugging those numbers into standard epidemic models reveals that something doesn’t fit, says David Fisman at the University of Toronto in Canada. “Cases, R0 or generation time have to be wrong,” he says. He thinks case numbers are too low, because it took doctors time to learn to diagnose the disease. He suspects that the explosive rise in cases of recent days is mostly due to improved case finding and diagnosis. Moreover, people with milder symptoms who don’t go to hospital and get tested may still add to the epidemic by transmitting the virus.
1-15-20 Climate change: Last decade confirmed as warmest on record
The 10 years to the end of 2019 have been confirmed as the warmest decade on record by three global agencies. According to Nasa, Noaa and the UK Met Office, last year was the second warmest in a record dating back to 1850. The past five years were the hottest in the 170-year series, with the average of each one more than 1C warmer than pre-industrial. The Met Office says that 2020 is likely to continue this warming trend. 2016 remains the warmest year on record, when temperatures were boosted by the El Niño weather phenomenon. Today's data doesn't come as a huge surprise, with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) signalling at the start of last December that 2019 likely marked the end of the warmest decade on record. The Met Office, which is involved in producing the HadCRUT4 temperature data, says that 2019 was 1.05C above the average for the period from 1850-1900. Last year saw two major heat waves hit Europe in June and July, with a new national record of 46C set in France on 28 June. New records were also set in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and in the UK at 38.7C. In Australia, the mean summer temperature was the highest on record by almost a degree. While the three different research agencies all have slightly different figures for the past 12 months, the WMO has carried out an analysis that uses additional data from the Copernicus climate change service and the Japan Meteorological Agency. They conclude that in 2019, the world was 1.1C warmer than in the pre-industrial period. "Our collective global temperature figures agree that 2019 joins the other years from 2015 as the five warmest years on record," said Dr Colin Morice, from the Met Office Hadley Centre. "Each decade from the 1980s has been successively warmer than all the decades that came before. 2019 concludes the warmest 'cardinal' decade (those spanning years ending 0-9) in records that stretch back to the mid-19th century."
1-8-20 2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record
Last year was Australia’s hottest, driest year ever, according to the annual climate statement of the national Bureau of Meteorology. The conditions have intensified the current wildfires, which are the worst on record. The average daytime maximum temperature across Australia in 2019 was 30.7°C , the highest since records began in 1910 and 2.1°C above the usual average. The extreme temperatures were spread across most of the country. Australia also had six of its hottest single days on record in 2019. On 18 December – the most extreme of these days – the average daytime maximum across Australia was 41.9°C. The hottest temperature recorded anywhere in Australia in 2019 was in Nullarbor in South Australia, where it reached 49.9°C on 19 December. This fell just shy of Australia’s hottest-ever recorded temperature – 50.7°C – which occurred at Oodnadatta in South Australia on 2 January 1960. Australia’s average rainfall total in 2019 was 277 millimetres, the lowest since records began in 1900 and about 40 per cent below normal. Severe drought affected large parts of the country. “Since we’ve been keeping records, we’ve never seen an overlapping hottest year on record and driest year on record,” says Karl Braganza at the Bureau of Meteorology. This has driven the unprecedented fires that have ripped through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia since September, he says. The hot, dry conditions in 2019 were caused by a climate phenomenon called a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which was unusually strong, as well as human-induced climate change, says Andrew Watkins at the Bureau. Since the beginning of last century, global warming has raised Australia’s average temperature by just over 1°C. This doesn’t sound like much, but it means that Australia’s extreme temperature days are also a degree hotter, which is why records keep being broken, says Watkins.
1-3-20 Climate change: Last decade UK's 'second hottest in 100 years'
A series of new records for high temperature were broken in the UK in 2019, concluding a record-breaking decade, the Met Office has said. The last decade was the second hottest in the past 100 years in the UK, with eight new high-temperature records set. Four new UK records were set last year alone, including the highest winter and summer temperatures ever recorded. Dr Mark McCarthy, from the Met Office in Exeter, said it was "a consequence of our warming climate". The 2010s were the second hottest and second wettest of the "cardinal" decades (those spanning years ending 0-9) in the last 100 years of UK records. In both cases, the 2010s were slightly behind 2000-2009, which holds the record for the hottest and wettest decade. The Met Office said this was partly because of a cold year in 2010, but added that such years occur much less frequently now than in the past. Last year, a maximum of 21.2C was reached on 26 February, in London - the hottest February day ever recorded. On 25 July, temperatures then reached 38.7C in Cambridge - the UK's highest-ever recorded temperature. The third record-breaker for 2019 was for the highest daily minimum temperature in February - a temperature of 13.9C recorded on 23 February in the Scottish Highlands. The hottest December day is also likely to have been exceeded last week, with a provisional temperature of 18.7C recorded in the Highlands of Scotland on 28 December - although the figure still needs to be validated. Overall, the UK was warmer, wetter and sunnier than average in 2019, the Met Office said. It said 2019 was provisionally the 11th warmest year on record, with a mean temperature of 9.42C, putting it just outside the top 10 - all of which have all occurred since 2002.
1-2-20 Norway records warmest ever January day at 19C
Western Norway is experiencing a rare heatwave for early January, at a time when temperatures should normally be below freezing. The highest temperature of 19C (66F) - more than 25C above the monthly average - was measured in the village of Sunndalsora. This makes it Norway's warmest January day since records began. While many were enjoying the warm weather, there are concerns that it is another example of climate change. "It's a new record for warm weather here... People [have been] out in the streets in their T-shirts today," Yvonne Wold, mayor of the municipality of Rauma, who had taken a dip in the sea earlier in the day, told the BBC. "A lot of people are usually skiing at this time. Not exactly much of that today," she added. While the hot weather was a novelty, Ms Wold said there were concerns about the bigger picture of rising temperatures. BBC forecaster Peter McAward said the previous January high in Sunndalsora was 17.4C. It also breaks the record for any winter month (December to February) in Scandinavia, he adds. While temperatures have been warmer in Scandinavia in December, he says the exceptionally warm day in Sunndalsora was down to its specific location. "The main cause for the record-breaking temperatures at this particular site was from a foehn wind," he says. Foehn winds are warm gusts that occur on the downwind side of mountain ranges. The area also held the December (18.3C) and February (18.9C) Norway maximum records.
2020 Science Headline News