TIME Environment

Fastest-Melting Region of Antarctica Triples Rate in a Decade

Antarctica Ice Melt NASA
Glaciers seen during NASA's Operation IceBridge research flight to West Antarctica on Oct. 29, 2014. NASA/Michael Studinger

According to a new analysis by NASA and researchers in California

The fastest-melting region of Antarctica is doing so at a rate triple that of a decade ago, according to a new analysis, making it the largest area contributor to the rise in sea level.

The findings of the 21-year study by scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California, Irvine offer the most precise estimates yet of just how fast glaciers in West Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea Embayment are melting. Scientists determined the rate by taking several radar, laser and satellite measurements of the glaciers’ mass to measure changes over time; between 1992 and 2013, they lost an average of 91.5 billion U.S. tons per year, or what they calculated as the equivalent of losing the water weight of Mt. Everest every two years.

“We have an excellent observing network now,” Isabella Velicogna, a co-author of the study, said in the statement. “It’s critical that we maintain this network to continue monitoring the changes, because the changes are proceeding very fast.”

The findings will provide a greater understanding of glaciers and ice sheets, which the researchers labeled the biggest uncertainties in predicting future sea levels. Previous studies have also examined Greenland, where NASA scientists have witnessed for years “unprecedented” melting of its ice sheet surfaces.

TIME Longevity

Want to Live Forever? These Men Say They Can Help

It’s not always easy to tell whether the new documentary titled The Immortalists is sympathetic to its two primary characters or whether it’s making fun of them. The men in question, Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey, are scientists who have independently vowed to cure aging and vanquish death. That alone suggests they belong in the fruitcake bin, along with the better known Ray Kurzweil, who intends to have his brain uploaded to a computer in 2045 in an event he calls the Singularity.

The impression becomes stronger when directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg delve into Andrews’ and de Grey’s lives and backgrounds, in an attempt to help viewers understand what motivates them. The bottom line: they disapprove of death. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” says a tearful Andrews at one point of a colleague who died of cancer at a relatively young age. “We were on the same mission.” Biology evidently hadn’t gotten the memo. De Gray, meanwhile, walking through a cemetery, declares, “I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s and end up in a place like this.”

Most of us agree that death seems unfair, unless we believe in a redemptive afterlife, which neither Andrews nor de Grey seems to—and even religious folks would generally like a few more decades of life before going to the Great Beyond. Most of us also believe bad things shouldn’t happen to good people—a sort of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” philosophy that’s as appealing as it is unanchored in any sort of rationality.

Both Andrews and de Gray are scientists, though, and their parallel quests to defeat aging have at least a plausible scientific basis. The key, they believe, lies with the telomere, a sort of protective endcap on our chromosomes that shortens every time a cell divides. When the telomere gets too short, the cell’s number is up. But a natural enzyme called telomerase can protect the telomere from damage, which suggests that having more of the enzyme could stave off aging and death.

So far so good, and scientists worldwide are looking into the details of exactly what telomerase does and how it does it—and whether boosting it artificially might help stave off aging. Those details could prove to be devilish, though. Back in the late ’70s scientists were intrigued with a natural substance called interferon, which showed promise as a magic bullet against cancer. It wasn’t. In the late ’90s there was lots of excitement about anti-angiogenesis drugs, also meant to wipe out cancer. But despite early promise, they too have failed to impress.

Most scientists are more careful now about making dramatic pronouncements about magic cures even for single diseases, let alone aging and death itself. But not Andrews or deGray. As it happens, legitimate, independent scientists are few and far between in The Immortalists, and those who do appear are less than effusive. “I find Aubrey’s position quite difficult to pin down,” says Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist at the University of London. “He made a statement that the first person who will live to 1,000 is alive today. I think that’s foolish.” William Bains, meanwhile, a biotech entrepreneur admires de Gray for being able to drink prodigious amounts of alcohol and still think serious scientific thoughts. I’d take an anti-aging cure created by a guy like that. Wouldn’t you?

The directors want us to understand both de Gray and Andrews as visionaries whose own private lives exemplify their maverick attitudes toward conventional wisdom. That part certainly works: we see Andrews running a 100-mile-plus ultramarathon across the Himalayas and we get to watch de Gray frolic nude on a blanket with his wife. (de Gray is polyamorous; his wife is not amused).

The film itself, which premiered last week in New York and opens December 11 in Los Angeles, artfully leaves it up to viewers whether de Gray and Andrews are crackpots or whether they’re outside-of-the-box thinkers who truly might help us live forever.

My vote: they should have stayed in the box.

TIME People

DNA Test on Richard III Raises Questions About Claims to the Throne

BRITAIN-ROYALS-HISTORY
A painting of Britain's King Richard III by an unknown artist is displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in central London on January 25, 2013. Leon Neal—AFP/Getty Images

DNA samples suggest he was a blue-eyed blond

DNA tests conducted on the remains of King Richard III suggest that contrary to historical records, the king had blue eyes, blond hair and a less-than-ironclad claim to the throne.

Two years after the king’s remains were discovered beneath a parking lot in the English city of Leicester, geneticists have found a likely divergence between the king’s real life appearance and how he was painted after his death, CNN reports. “The genetic evidence shows he had a 96% probability of having blue eyes, and a 77% probability of having blond hair, though this can darken with age,” said University of Leicester genetic specialist Turi King.

The findings also raised questions about Richard III’s claimed descent from his predecessor, Edward III. Five living descendants from that royal bloodline had intriguing mismatches in their genetic markers, suggesting a mysterious break occurred somewhere along the family tree.

[CNN]

TIME Infectious Disease

NYC Insects Can Eat An Astounding Amount of Human Food Waste

ants on leaf
Getty Images

Meet the tiny trash crew under your shoe

Here’s a relieving factoid to put your cravings in context: arthropods, the class of invertebrates including insects, millipedes and spiders, can scarf down way more junk food than you can.

So finds a new study from North Carolina State University and published in the journal Global Change Biology, which examined how arthropods act as tiny trash disposals in New York City’s public spaces.

The researchers wanted to see how these tiny city dwellers consume our littered food waste, so they imitated neglectful humans and dropped two sets of scraps of potato chips (Ruffles), cookies (Nilla Wafers) and hot dogs in 45 parks and street medians across the city. One set of food was placed in a cage so that only tiny arthropods could access it, and the other was an uncaged buffet for whatever animal happened to come along.

Our littered food waste can have real implications for our health, the researchers say. If city vertebrates—like rats, sparrows, raccoons, squirrels and pigeons—pick up most of our edible garbage, we’re feeding a population that can transmit diseases to humans. Most arthropod scavengers, on the other hand, don’t make us sick.

Lucky for us, arthropods are amazingly effective at removing our trash. While they’re no match for vertebrates, with whom they compete for access to our scraps, arthropods were able to remove most, and in some cases all, of the caged food in many spots around the city. Surprisingly, compared to insects in parks, insects in medians removed two to three times more food each day—thanks to the presence of pavement ants, highly efficient foragers.

In a year, the researchers estimated, arthropods could, all told, vacuum up the equivalent 60,000 hot dogs, 200,000 Nilla Wafers or 600,000 Ruffles potato chips.

“If left uneaten—or if eaten by animals that harbor human diseases—this littered food waste becomes a public health, environmental, and financial burden,” the study authors write. “Future work should further explore the conditions that favor the competitive advantage of arthropods as food removers in cities.”

So spare the next bug you see on the sidewalk. City life would be a lot less pleasant with crumbled food waste in your way.

TIME Sports

Football Head Impacts Can Cause Brain Changes Even Without Concussion

Tetra Images - Erik Isakson—Getty Images/Brand X

New study looks at high school athletes

As the world mourns the loss of Ohio State University football player Kosta Karageorge, who was found dead in an apparent suicide on Nov. 30, concerns about the long term effects of head injuries sustained by footballers continue to mount. A day after Karageorge’s death, a study has been released that suggests sports-related head impacts can cause changes in the brain even when there are no outward signs of a concussion.

In fact, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., say some high school football players in the study exhibited measurable brain changes after a single season of play, even in the absence of concussion.

The Wake Forest team, lead by Dr. Christopher Whitlow, focused on youth players, a group that until now had been widely overlooked in the research into the effects of the repetitive head impacts associated with a typical season of football. “For every one NFL player, there are 2,000 youth players. That’s close to four million youth players and the vast majority of research on impact-related brain injuries has been on the college and professional level,” says Dr. Whitlow, noting that two-thirds of head impacts occur in practice sessions, not games.

Read More: High School Football Player Dies After Injury

In the first-of-its-kind study, the researchers hooked up 24 high school football players between the ages of 16 and 18 with helmet-mounted sensors to assess the frequency and severity of helmet impacts and then sent them out to play ball. As the players hit the field, the sensors allowed the researchers to monitor the severity of players’ head impacts. The team collected data from the helmets before and after every game and the high school students also underwent pre- and post-season diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of the brain. “We looked at both structural and functional neuro-imaging and evaluated the players’ neuro-cognitive function,” he says.

“We found some changes in the brain that are concerning,” said Dr. Whitlow. “They are concerning because kids with more impacts had more changes and the kids with fewer impacts had fewer changes.”

While none of the football players were concussed during the season, the researchers found that there were microstructural changes in all of the players’ brains, especially in those players who were deemed “heavy hitters.” That direct correlation between game-related hits and changes in the brain is not exactly surprising, but may be unsettling for parents of youth football players.

Read More: The Tragic Risks of American Football

Not that Dr. Whitlow wants people to pull their kids from the peewee leagues or ban high school football just yet. “The high school athletes weren’t experiencing any of the classic symptoms of concussion—dizziness, nausea or double vision,” he says. “While the changes in the brains are concerning, because there were no symptoms of concussions, we don’t yet know how important these changes are.”

Dr. Whitlow sees the results of the study as only the first step in identifying a potential problem with allowing youth players to continue to play ball. He and his team want to determine whether these changes in the brain are permanent or transient and whether they are associated with subtle changes in neuro-cognitive functions. “Once we can identify risks, we can intervene to reduce those risks,” he says. Interventions could include improvements in technology and helmet safety, identifying maneuvers that could be particularly dangerous, making changes in the diagnoses of head injuries and identifying subtle changes that could be harmful.

So what’s a parent to do? Dr. Whitlow suggests they get involved in their kids’ practices. “You have to put these risks in the context of the health-related benefits of playing sports. The take home message is that parents need to use common sense. The best thing for parents to do is know what is going on on the field, know the symptoms of concussions, get to know the coaches, find out if there is a trainer on the field who can diagnose concussions.” He also directed parents to SaveInjuredKids.org for ideas on how to reduce head injuries and to learn to identify the signs of concussion.

“Football is the great American pastime,” said Dr. Whitlow. “I think it’s going to be around for another hundred years and what we’re trying to do is make it safer.”

Got Kids? Special Offer for Families from TIME

TIME Research

These Mammals Are Hit Hard By Climate Change

Wild rabbit
Getty Images

Research suggests that smaller mammals may weather climate change better than bigger ones

WSF logo small

December’s here and snowshoe hares are putting on their white winter coats as they’ve done for countless generations. But because climate change is transforming their environment much faster than evolution can react to it, the species is increasingly out-of-sync with its landscape: As snows arrive later and melt earlier, the hares, whose coloration change is thought to be triggered by the changing length of days, not the actual temperature and precipitation around them, are turning white when their surroundings are still brown, and stand out like beacons for predators. By 2100, the discrepancy between the hares’ coat change and the timing of snow and melt could be off by as much as eight weeks, according to research by two North Carolina State University biologists.

Predators are being negatively affected as well. Wolverines need snow to make their dens, and “there is no evidence that wolverines will be able to persist in areas that lose their snow as a consequence of climate change,” researchers wrote in a paper for the U.S. Forest Service. Wolves are struggling in places like Isle Royale National Park, where a streak of unusually hot summers has caused a decline in moose, their primary prey. Declines in wolves can impact other species, too: Wolves and other apex predators have been shown to buffer against climate-related famines for scavengers like bald eagles—in milder winters, animals like elk are less likely to die of natural causes, so the leftovers from wolf kills provide a crucial source of carrion.

Bats are feeling the heat as well, quite literally, and droughts could spell disaster for many species. “Bats in arid places need freshwater to drink, especially when lactating,” says Winifred Frick, a bat researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz. As the climate changes, bat habitats that get warmer and drier will increasingly become uninhabitable. Heat waves have already caused mass die-offs among flying foxes in Australia.

Changing climates can also affect bats’ echolocation abilities. The temperature, humidity, and pressure of the air all affect how a bat’s ultrasonic screech travels, and according to one model developed by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, bats living in more temperate zones at present will get less efficient at finding prey—more precisely, the volume of space they can detect prey in will shrink—while tropical bats will actually benefit and be able to cast a wider sonic net.

With widely distributed and varied mammal groups like bats, it’s hard to say whether or not climate change will spell doom for every single species in the group. Some may adapt to their altered habitats, some may migrate, and some may perish. In general, though, research suggests that smaller mammals may weather climate change better than bigger ones. A recent meta-analysis led by University of Colorado Boulder professor Christy McCain that examined 140 research projects on North American mammals found that body size is by far the best characteristic to predict how an animal responds to climate change. Bigger animals like foxes, reindeer, and bighorn sheep are in danger, but rodents may prove much more resilient.

“There may be certain traits like body size and activity behaviors that allow some smaller mammals to expand the range of temperature and humidity available to them,” McCain said in a statement. “These areas and conditions are not available to bigger mammals that live above the vegetation and experience only ambient temperatures.” This appears on the surface to be in line with what the fossil record has shown at major extinction events—some populations of small mammals survive, even as larger creatures die in droves.

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

TIME psychology

How Memory Links the Presidency, Ferguson and the Cosby Mess

Do you know me? Relax, you're not alone.
Do you know me? Relax, you're not alone.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The human brain forgets much more than it remembers, and that has an impact on history, criminal justice and more

Here’s a difficult one, history buffs: Who was Harry Truman? I know, I know, I told you it would be tough, but think hard: Some famous general? Maybe a physicist?

If you guessed U.S. president, good for you! And if you also knew that Truman was the one who came right after Roosevelt (Franklin, that is) and right before Eisenhower, go to the head of the class.

OK, so maybe remembering Truman isn’t such a big deal. But here’s the thing: By 2040, according to a new study just published in Science, only 26% of college students will remember to include his name if they are asked to make a list of all U.S. Presidents, regardless of order.

That finding, which is less a function of historical illiteracy than of the mysterious ways the human brain works, reveals a lot about the perishability of memory. And that, in turn, has implications for contemporary dramas like the Ferguson tragedy, the Bill Cosby mess and the very underpinnings of the criminal justice system.

The Science study, conducted by a pair of psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis, was actually four studies that took place over 40 years—in 1974, 1991, 2009 and 2014. In the first three, the investigators asked groups of then-college students to list all of the presidents in the order in which they served, and also to list as many of them as they could by name regardless of where they fell in history.

In all three groups over all three eras, the results were remarkably similar. As a rule, 100% of respondents knew the president currently serving, and virtually all knew the prior one or two. Performance then fell off with each previous presidency. Roughly 75% of students in 1974 placed FDR in the right spot, for example. Fewer than 20% of Millennials—born much later—could do that. In all groups, the historical trail would go effectively cold one or two presidents before the subjects’ birth—falling into single digits.

There were exceptions. The Founding Father presidents, particularly the first three—George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—scored high in all groups. As did Abraham Lincoln and his two immediate successors, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant. As for the Tylers and Taylors and Fillmores? Forget about them—which most people did. The pattern held again in a single larger survey conducted in 2014, with a mixed-age sample group that included Boomers, Gen X’ers and Millennials, all performing true to their own eras.

Almost none of this had to do with any one President’s historical relevance—apart from the Founding Fathers and Lincoln. James Polk’s enormously consequential, one-term presidency is far less recalled than, say, Jimmy Carter’s much less successful four-year stint. Instead, our memory is personal, a thing of the moment, and deeply fallible—and that means trouble.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Ferguson drama is the mix of wildly different stories eyewitnesses presented to the grand jury, with Michael Brown portrayed as anything from anger-crazed aggressor to supine victim. Some witnesses may have been led by prosecutors, some may have simply been making things up, but at least some were surely doing their best, trying to remember the details of a lethal scene as it unfolded in a few vivid seconds.

If forensic psychology has shown anything, it’s that every single expectation or bias a witness brings to an experience—to say nothing of all of the noise and press and controversy that may follow—can contaminate recall until it’s little more reliable than that of someone who wan’t there at all.

Something less deadly—if no less ugly—applies in the Bill Cosby case. In an otherwise reasonable piece in the Nov. 25 Washington Post, columnist Kathleen Parker cautions against a collective rush to judgment and reminds readers that under the American legal system, Cosby is not a rapist, but an alleged rapist; and his victims, similarly, are as yet only alleged victims. Fair enough; that’s what the criminal justice rules say. But then, there’s this:

“…we have formed our opinions… only on the memories of the women, most of whom say they were drugged at the time. Some of them have conceded that their recollections are foggy—which, of course they would be, after decades and under pharmaceutically induced circumstances, allegedly.”

In other words, if Cosby did drug them, then perhaps we must throw their testimony out of court because, um, Cosby drugged them. Talk about the (alleged) criminal making hay on his crime. And yet, when it comes to the science of memory, that’s an argument that could work before a judge.

Finally, too, there is the unseemly business of Ray Rice. Virtually nobody who knows what he did has forgotten it—which is what happens when you’re a massively strong athlete and you cold-cock a woman. But it was the complete elevator video actually showing the blow, as opposed to the earlier one in which Rice was seen merely dragging the unconscious body of his soon-to-be-wife out into a hotel hallway, that spelled his end—at least until his lifetime NFL ban was overturned on Nov. 28. Knowing what happened is very different from seeing what happened—and once you saw the savagery of Rice’s blow, you could never unsee it.

When it comes to presidents, the fallibility of memory can help. In the years immediately following Richard Nixon’s resignation, it was a lot harder to appreciate his manifest triumphs—the Clean Air Act, the opening to China—than it is now. George W. Bush is enjoying his own small historical rebound, with his AIDS in Africa initiative and his compassionate attempt at immigration reform looking better and better in the rear-view mirror—despite the still-recent debacles of his Presidency.

We do ourselves a disservice if we hold historical grudges against even our most flawed presidents; but we do just as much harm if we allow ourselves to forget why ill-planned land wars in countries like Iraq or cheap break-ins at places like the Watergate are so morally criminal. Forget the sequence of the Presidents if you must, but do remember their deeds.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

Astronauts on the International Space Station Can Now Enjoy Espresso

Espresso in Space
A prototype of Lavazza's and Argotec's "ISSpresso" machine. The final version of the coffee machine will be the first real Italian espresso machine on The International Space Station, and will coincide with a six-month mission by Italy’s first Italian female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti. Lavazza/AP

The Italian engineered 'ISSpresso' can be sipped through a straw

If the only thing keeping you from joining the space program was a lack of decent coffee outside Earth’s orbit, you no longer have that excuse.

This week Italy sent astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to the International Space Station with a specially designed espresso machine that works in zero-gravity.

Designed by Turin-based Lavazzo and engineering firm Argotec, the ISSpresso, pumps water under high pressure through the machine into a pouch, where it can be sipped through a straw.

Part of an international crew that arrived on the Russian Soyuz craft, Cristoforetti, 37, also a captain in the Italian air force, “will be not only the first female astronaut from Italy to go into space, but also the very first astronaut in the history of the conquest of space to savor an authentic Italian espresso in orbit,” the companies said in a statement.
If slurping hot coffee through a straw sounds less than ideal, more innovations are on the horizon, thanks to researchers in Portland, where coffee obsession rivals that in Italy.

On Monday a team at Portland State University presented a paper, The Capillary Fluidics of Espresso, detailing a way to enjoy espresso in space in a manner similar to the one on Earth – which is to say in a cup – by replacing the role of gravity with the forces of surface tension.

Espresso, noted the team, which included a member of NASA and also a high school student, “is distinguished by a complex low density colloid of emulsified oils. Due to gravity, these oils rise to the surface forming a foam lid called the crema …. To some, the texture and aromatics of the crema play a critical role in the overall espresso experience. We show how in the low-g environment this may not be possible. We also suggest alternate methods for enjoying espresso aboard spacecraft.”

Of equal importance, these impressive innovations mean that, should the ISS ever encounter life on other planets, aliens’ first experience of coffee will not be adulterated with pumpkin spice.

This article originally appeared at PEOPLE.com

TIME India

Tigers Are Dying in Record Numbers in India

Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)
A Bengal tiger at Ranthambore National Park, India, on March 3, 2014 De Agostini/Getty Images

Some 274 tigers have died over the past four years, most of them because of poaching

A record number of tigers died in India over the most recent census period, a total of 274 deceased in the past four years.

Only 82 of those tigers died because of natural causes, while more than 70% of tiger deaths were due to poaching or for undetermined reasons, Indian science-and-environment magazine Down to Earth reports.

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar released the figures in response to a question in the Parliament on Nov. 26.

India had approximately 1,706 tigers, according to the 2010 census. The overall population of tigers may not suffer when India’s official tiger-population census for 2014 gets released next month.

“Here, we are not taking tiger births into account,” said S.P. Yadav, deputy inspector general with the National Tiger Conservation Authority. “An adult tigress can give birth to younger ones every 90 days. If, of four-five litters that a tigress gives birth to, even one-two survive, these numbers can be compensated.”

[Down to Earth]

TIME psychology

Reading Harry Potter Provides Clues to Brain Activity

Harry Potter
Warner Bros.

Researchers have identified the magic going on inside our brains while we read

Scientists have been using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to work out what happens in different parts of the brain when people read and connect words with the ideas behind them.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pennsylvania performed scans on the brains of eight people as they read the ninth chapter of the first book in J.K. Rowling’s famous series.

Leila Wehbe, a graduate student who conducted much of the research, told CMU’s News site that the chapter is about Harry’s first flying lesson. “It turns out that movement of the characters — such as when they are flying their brooms — is associated with activation in the same brain region that we use to perceive other people’s motion,” she said.

Scientists said their research could eventually reveal what’s happening in the brains of people who struggle to read and people with dyslexia.

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