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Join us as we explore an Ice Age discovery, a machine learning tool that can detect heart attacks from across the room, and the ability to derive fuels from plain air.  

Climate change real estate

Climate change migration is going to be a major issue in the coming years. In fact, the World Bank Group estimates that shifting climates could lead more than 140 million people to move within their countries.

<strong>It’s not all bad news?</strong> Rising temperatures and increased precipitation may decrease permafrost and open 13 millions square kilometers of Eastern Siberia to human habitation and agriculture. Courtesy Russian Academy of Sciences.On the brighter side, scientists from the Krasnoyarsk Federal Research Center in Russia think at least some migration will allow people to live in previously uninhabitable land. Specifically, they found that Siberia may be able to support more people in the near future. 

While the Asian Russia region east of the Ural Mountains makes up 77% of Russian landmass, it only holds 27% of the country’s population. However, by the 2080s, the prevalence of permafrost in the region will drop by twenty-five percent, with coinciding increases in overall temperature and precipitation. All of this will lead to an improved ability to farm and sustain human life, and we may see more people moving to this region in the years to come.

My, what big teeth you have

The well-preserved head of a wolf that died 40,000 years ago was discovered in Siberia. Scientists will examine its DNA to study how the Pleistocene predator has evolved into the smaller, modern-day wolf. Courtesy CGTN.

Predictions of mass migrations aren’t the only reason Siberia has been in the news recently. A man living in the Russian Republic of Sakha stumbled across the severed head of a giant wolf that dates back to the Ice Age.

Measuring 16 inches and originating from around 40,000 years ago, this specimen is unique due to its incredible condition. The wolf’s teeth, skin, fur, and brain are all in nearly perfect condition. Scientists at the Swedish Museum of Natural History will analyze the predator’s DNA, comparing it to modern wolves to better understand how the species has evolved.

Energy out of thin air

There is no silver bullet solution for climate change. Rather, we’ll have to rely on a multitude of options that provide the energy we need without making the current situation worse. One potential option is to extract fuel out of thin air.

Carbon-neutral fuel from sunlight and air. Scientists have developed a novel technology that produces liquid hydrocarbon fuels from sunlight and air under real field conditions. Courtesy ETH Zurich.

Researchers at ETH Zurich have invented a process for taking the CO2 and water found in the air and splitting them with the help of solar energy. This method results in syngas, which can then be turned into kerosene, methanol, or other hydrocarbons. Potentially, this technology could allow humans to continue to use devices powered by familiar fuels. The best part is that the fuels produced by this method only emit the amount of CO2 required to create them in the first place.

To prove their technology, the scientists built a solar mini-refinery on the roof of ETH Zurich. Even under the climate conditions of Zurich, the installation produces one deciliter of fuel each day. Plans are afoot to build another reactor in Madrid to test the technology at a larger scale. Says Phillipp Furler, a former member of the research group, “Theoretically, a plant the size of just one-third of the Mojave Desert could cover the kerosene needs of the entire aviation industry”

Back from the dead

Plant and animal species are going extinct at a rapid rate. The Center for Biological Diversity suspects that we’re losing unique species at around 1,000 times more than what we would expect naturally.

Lazarus species. The greater Bermuda land snail was considered extinct for 40 years, until a small population was discovered in a damp alley behind a restaurant. They have since been bred in captivity and now are being released in nature reserves in Bermuda. Courtesy Deeside.com.

With such depressing statistics, stories like that of the greater Bermuda land snail are a beacon of hope. These unique gastropods were thought to have gone extinct forty years ago. However, hundreds of juvenile and hatchling-sized snails were recently found living in plastic bags behind a restaurant in Bermuda.

The newly-discovered critters were then shipped to Chester Zoo and the Zoological Society of London to allow them to breed rapidly. This resulted in around 13,000 snails being produced from the original few hundred, and they will now be released into nature reserves in hope that they will repopulate.

Machine learning could save your life

Medicine may not yet be able to bring people back from the dead, but modern technology is helping to prolong life in various ways. A recent development out of the University of Washington is taking this idea to an interesting new level. Scientists have devised a way to teach smartphones and smart speakers to detect if a person is having a heart attack.

<strong>Heart attack detector</strong>. A new tool can use smartphones or smart speakers to monitor people for signs of a heart attack. Machine learning and real 911 calls from heart-attack victims were used to train the tool. Courtesy Sarah McQuate, University of Washington.This new capability is thanks to machine learning techniques that listen to a person’s breathing. When someone is having a heart attack, their breathing becomes strained and painful, or it might even stop. This is called agonal breathing, and it’s a sign that the person needs to go to the hospital immediately.

This new tool listens for agonal breathing, having been trained using real 911 calls from patients experiencing heart attacks. It's 97% accurate in detecting agonal breathing from up to 20 feet away. Quick intervention can double or triple a heart attack victim’s chance of survival—but if they’re on their own that’s not likely to happen. Widespread use of this new technology could catch more patients in time to be treated.


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