TIME Environment

Ozone Layer Showing Signs of Recovery, Study Finds

Ozone Rebounds
This undated image provided by NASA shows the ozone layer over the years, Sept. 17, 1979, top left, Oct. 7, 1989, top right, Oct. 9, 2006, lower left, and Oct. 1, 2010, lower right. NASA/AP

Finally, some good news about the environment

The depleted protective ozone layer that has left a gaping hole over Antarctica is showing signs of recovering, a UN panel of scientists said Wednesday.

The report found early indications of an increase in total ozone levels, which stabilized around 2000 after two decades of decline. The hole over Antarctica that appears every year, which grew to about 30 million square km in 2006, has also stopped expanding, according to the report.

Scientists realized in the 1970s that chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were wearing down the ozone layer, which helps the Earth repel potentially harmful radiation from the sun. But an international movement to ban or replace CFCs, buttressed by the 1987 Montreal Protocol, has helped reduce the amount of CFC in the atmosphere.

“It’s a victory for diplomacy and for science and for the fact that we were able to work together,” chemist Mario Molina, one of the coauthors of a 1974 study predicting ozone depletion, told the Associated Press.

While past studies have found slowing ozone depletion, the UN report Wednesday is the first to show indications of an increase in total ozone, Geir Braathen, a senior scientific officer with the World Meteorological Organization, which co-produced the report, told Reuters.

TIME Civil Rights

Justice Department Opens Civil Rights Probe Into Ferguson Police

US Attorney General Eric Holder delivers remarks on the Justice Department’s efforts in Ferguson, Missouri.
US Attorney General Eric Holder responds to a question from the news media on the Justice Department’s efforts in Ferguson, Missouri during a press conference at the Justice Department in Washington, DC, on Sept. 4, 2014. Shawn Thew—EPA

"Our investigation will assess the police department’s use of force, including deadly force. It will analyze stops, searches, and arrests."

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday that the Justice Department would open a civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department in the wake of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager last month.

The Aug. 9 encounter prompted riots and days of protests in the St. Louis suburb, and the Department of Justice is already separately investigating whether any civil rights laws were violated during the shooting of the teenager, Michael Brown.

Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference on Thursday that city leaders would be cooperating with the investigation into whether there was a pattern or practice of discrimination in the force. He also said the so-called “pattern or practice” investigation could be expanded to include police departments in neighboring jurisdictions.

“In Ferguson, our investigation will assess the police department’s use of force, including deadly force. It will analyze stops, searches, and arrests. And it will examine the treatment of individuals detained at Ferguson’s city jail, in addition to other potentially discriminatory policing techniques and tactics that are brought to light,” Holder said.

The Department was given the legal authority to open “pattern or practice” investigations in 1994 and in the past five years it has opened 20 such investigations across the country.

TIME conflict

Obama and British Leader Say They Won’t Be ‘Cowed by Barbaric Killers’

"If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong"

The United States and Britain will “not be cowed” by Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria who have killed two American journalists, the leaders of both nations said Thursday.

Ahead of a NATO summit in Wales that began Thursday, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron published a joint article in the Times of London saying they will “confront” the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and calling for international action to address security threats around the world.

“If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong,” they wrote. “Countries like Britain and America will not be cowed by barbaric killers. We will be more forthright in the defence of our values, not least because a world of greater freedom is a fundamental part of how we keep our own people safe.”

The NATO summit, which is formally scheduled to address the drawdown in Afghanistan and the conflict in Ukraine, comes days after the ISIS released a video depicting its beheading of a second American journalist.

Obama and Cameron also called for NATO to increase pressure on Russia, which Western officials say is meddling in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists.

“With Russia trying to force a sovereign state to abandon its right to democracy and determining the course of its future at the barrel of a gun, we should support Ukraine’s right to determine its own democratic future and continue our efforts to enhance Ukrainian capabilities,” they wrote.

TIME Environment

Judge Places Most Blame on BP for 2010 Oil Spill

Deepwater Horizon site
Deepwater Horizon site Carrie Vonderhaar—Ocean Futures Society/Getty Images

British energy giant's conduct called "reckless"

A New Orleans judge ruled on Thursday that British energy giant BP’s gross negligence led to the largest offshore oil spill in American history.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said BP was mostly to blame for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, which killed 11 people and spewed oil into the water for 87 days.

Barbier attributed 67% of the fault to BP, 30% to Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and 3% to Halliburton, the cement contractor.

“BP’s conduct was reckless,” Barbier wrote in the decision, according to Bloomberg. “Transocean’s conduct was negligent. Halliburton’s conduct was negligent.”

Barbier oversaw a trial last year to distribute fault for the spill. BP could face up to $18 billion in fines, Bloomberg reports, though appeals will likely delay if and when any penalties are settled. The company pleaded guilty in 2012 to 14 federal counts and agreed to pay $4 billion to end the criminal case.

BP said in a statement it would appeal the decision. Its shares were down nearly 6% at 12:12 p.m. ET on Thursday.

TIME Archaeology

Researchers Find Dinosaur Species That Weighed More Than a Jumbo Jet

Dreadnoughtus
This undated artist rendering provided by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History shows the Dreadnoughtus. Mark A. Klingler—Associated Press

Bones found in Argentina's Patagonia region

A team of researchers said Thursday that they have found a species of dinosaur that was 85 feet long and weighed as much as 12 elephants, making it one of the largest animals known to have walked the Earth.

The team unearthed the fossilized skeleton of the giant herbivore in Argentina’s Patagonia region and say that some 70 percent of the skeleton is represented. They published their findings in Scientific Reports on Thursday, calling it the most complete skeleton of a titanosaur — a group of giant long-necked dinosaurs that existed roughly 75 million years ago — ever found.

Despite the dinosaur’s enormous size, which is nearly as large as the estimated sizes of other, less-complete fossilized titanosaurs, the researchers say this one was likely still growing when it died.

“I look at this dinosaur every day now and I still can’t believe it exists,” researcher Kenneth Lacovara, of Drexel University in Philadelphia, told the Wall Street Journal. The fossils are on loan to the U.S. but are slated to be returned to Argentina next year.

The dinosaur, formally called the Dreadnoughtus schrani, is believed to have weighed 65 tons, well above the weight of a Boeing 737-900 and nearly 10 times the weight of a T. rex, the Journal notes. Its neck was 37 feet long and its tail extended another 29 feet.

“We are seeing something that is pushing the envelope of how big you can get on this planet,” Lacovara told the Journal.

TIME Iraq

NATO Chief: Alliance Would Consider Intervention in Iraq

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Barack Obama
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, front left, speaks with U.S. President Barack Obama, front right, as they arrives for a group photo during a NATO summit on the grounds of the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales on Thursday, Sept. 4. Jon Super—AP

The statements come as NATO meets to plan its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Andesr Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday that the alliance would consider containing Islamist militants in Iraq if the Iraqi government requested NATO’s help.

“I’m sure that if the Iraqi government were to forward a request for NATO assistance, that would be considered seriously by NATO allies,” Rasmussen said on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

NATO leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, are in Wales for a summit to plan the winding down of operations in Afghanistan and respond to the crisis in Ukraine. But Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in the Times of London on Thursday that their countries will “not be cowed” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the militant group that has seized parts of northern Iraq and killed at least two American journalists.

Rasmussen said the international community “has an obligation to stop the Islamic State from advancing further,” though NATO leaders have so far not proposed specific joint action, according to the AP.

The U.S. has launched limited strikes against ISIS in Iraq, and Obama has said he is considering expanding military operations against ISIS to Syria.

[AP]

TIME astronomy

This Asteroid Will Pass Really Close to Earth This Weekend

Zoinks!

NASA says an asteroid that was first spotted only days ago will pass very close to Earth on Sunday.

The asteroid, designated 2014 RC, will “safely pass” our planet at about one tenth the distance from Earth to the Moon, or roughly 25,000 miles away, the space agency said Wednesday. That means it will be only a few thousand miles away from the geosynchronous ring where many of our weather and communication satellites orbit about 22,000 miles from Earth’s surface.

2014 RC is estimated to be about 60 feet in size and, despite its proximity, won’t be visible by the naked eye when it flies over New Zealand, though a simple telescope will be enough to spot it. It was first discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona over the weekend.

“While this celestial object does not appear to pose any threat to Earth or satellites, its close approach creates a unique opportunity for researchers to observe and learn more about asteroids,” NASA said in a statement about the asteroid’s pass.

And this won’t be the last we see of 2014 RC, whose orbit will bring it back to Earth’s neighborhood in the future. But NASA assures us that “no future threatening Earth encounters have been identified.”

 

TIME Ukraine

Putin Says He Has a Plan for Peace in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin Attends EU Summit In Minsk With Ukrainian President
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a news conference on Aug. 26, 2014, in Minsk, Belarus Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images

But Putin's comments came on the eve of a NATO summit where top Western officials accused Russia of meddling in the conflict in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a seven-point peace plan for eastern Ukraine on Wednesday that he jotted down in a notebook on a flight to a state visit to Mongolia.

While Putin’s proposed specifics and enforcement mechanism remain unclear, his first point called for Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to “end active offensive operations,” the New York Times reports. Putin spoke with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko over the phone on Wednesday, and talks between Kiev and the separatists are planned for Friday.

But Putin’s ideas dismissed by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk as “deceptive.” They also came the night before a NATO summit in Wales, where Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, are gathering to discuss plans to end the conflict in Ukraine and to draw down NATO’s presence in Afghanistan. NATO says that more than 1,000 Russian soldiers were operating in eastern Ukraine.

“What counts is what is actually happening on the ground,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, according to the Associated Press. “And we are still witnessing, unfortunately, Russian involvement in destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine.”

[NYT]

TIME Civil Rights

Here’s Why We Celebrate Labor Day

Labor Day Parade in New York, in 1995.
Labor Day Parade in New York, in 1995. Susan Watts—NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Here's what you need to know about one of America's most important holidays.

The first Monday of September means that white clothes are out, sales are in, summer holidays are over and classes begin. For many of us (but far from all of us), it’s a welcome day off of work or school, ahead of what is likely to be a busier month than the last.

But the Labor Day holiday has a storied past, one of violence and celebration, that’s embedded deep in the history of the American labor movement. And while it has spread around the world in different forms, Labor Day has distinctly American roots.

Here’s a quick primer on the meaning and history of the holiday.

When did Labor Day begin?

The modern holiday is widely traced back to an organized parade in New York City in 1882. Union leaders had called for what they had labelled a “monster labor festival” on Tuesday, Sept. 5, according to Linda Stinson, a former historian for the Department of Labor (the idea for a general labor festival may have originated in Canada, which today also celebrates “Labour Day” on the first Monday in September). Initially that morning, few people showed up, and organizers worried that workers had been reluctant to surrender a day’s pay to join the rally. But soon the crowds began flowing in from across the city, and by the end of the day some 10,000 people had marched in the parade and joined festivities afterward in what the press dubbed “a day of the people.”

When did it become an official holiday?

The practice of holding annual festivities to celebrate workers spread across the country, but Labor Day didn’t become a national holiday for more than a decade. Oregon became the first state to declare it a holiday in 1887, and states like New York, Massachusetts and Colorado soon followed suit. Under President Grover Cleveland, and amid growing awareness of the labor movement, the first Monday in September became a national holiday in 1896.

Why is it on the first Monday in September anyway?

Labor union leaders had pushed for a September date for the New York demonstration, which coincided with a conference in the city of the Knights of Labor, one of the largest and most influential of the unions. The first two New York City Labor Days took place on the 5th of September, but in 1884, the third annual New York City Labor Day holiday was scheduled for the first Monday in September, and that date stuck.

The September rally would soon clash with International Worker’s Day on May 1, which arose out of what is known as the Haymarket Affair. On May 4, 1886, protesters in Chicago gathered to demand an 8-hour workday. Toward the end of the day, a peaceful demonstration devolved into violence when a bomb was hurled toward the police, killing one officer instantly and injuring others. The police responded by firing into the crowd, killing a still undetermined number of people. The incident enraged labor activists but also fueled fears in America that the labor movement had become radicalized, prompting a crackdown on labors groups: the bomb thrower was never identified, but four people were hanged for their alleged involvement.

In the wake of the Haymarket Affair, Union leaders and socialists declared May 1 as International Workers’ Day, and the day was and continues to be unofficially observed in the U.S. It’s also that date that most other countries officially or unofficially observe as a holiday in honor of workers. But when President Grover Cleveland moved to create a national labor holiday, he chose to avoid the thorny history of that May date.

So what’s the difference between Labor Day and May Day (International Workers’ Day) in the U.S.?

Jonathan Cutler, associate professor of sociology at Wesleyan, described Labor Day as a “government alternative” to May Day in an informative interview with NPR about the Haymarket Affair. May Day may have helped promote the creation of a national holiday, but Labor Day is associated with a different significance. “May Day has always been linked to the demand for less work and more pay; Labor Day celebrates the ‘dignity’ of work,” Cutler said in the interview.

We have Monday off, but does the labor community still actually celebrate the holiday?

Yep. To this day there is still a major parade in New York City (and other cities across the country, large and small), and the #UnionStrong will probably make a big showing on Twitter. It’s true that union membership has been declining for years, but many of the challenges that faced workers more than a century ago are still being overcome today, whether by the growing movement for higher wages in the fast food industry or by overworked tech and finance employees calling for better hours.

“If there is anyone who needs to attend to the spirit of Haymarket, it is the American white-collar professional who works 10 hour days, including many weekends, and who has fewer paid vacation days than other white-collar professionals around the world,” Cutler said in the interview with NPR.

So, are white clothes really out?

Yes and no.

TIME Environment

Solved: Mystery of Moving Stones in Death Valley

A sailing stone in Racetrack playa, Death Valley, CA.
A sailing stone in Racetrack playa, Death Valley, in California Mark Newman—Getty Images

A group of scientists say they've figured out how the "sailing stones" glide along the desert floor on their own

So-called sailing stones in California’s Death Valley National Park have perplexed tourists and scientists alike for their apparent ability to move on their own, leaving sometimes meter-long tracks in their wake.

But after years of speculation, researchers with patience, remote weather monitors, cameras, and stones that are fitted with GPS say they have discovered the force behind the phenomenon.

Wind (very strong winds) and ice (very thick ice) have long been considered as possible explanations for why the rocks, sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds, move. It’s actually a combination of a little of both, the team of researchers say in their study, published in the journal PLOS One this week.

Rainwater in what is known as the Racetrack Playa creates a shallow pond over the playa that, in cold winter temperatures, freezes over. When the ice begins to melt under the sun, it first breaks up into large panels thin enough that, with a nudge from even light winds, they shift — and push whatever rocks may lie in their path.

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