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Seven days: 31 October–6 November 2014

Go Advanced search __UL__ HomeNews & Comment;Research;Careers & Jobs;Current Issue;Archive;Audio & Video;For Authors;Archive;Volume 515;Issue 7525;Seven Days;Article; Nature Seven Days Sharing__LI____LI____UL____LI____LI____LI____LI____LI____LI____LI__Seven days: 31 October–6 November 2014; The week in science: Lava flow invades Hawaiian town; Poland moves to join European Southern Observatory; and China completes round-trip lunar mission. 05 November 2014 Article toolsPDF;Rights & Permissions; Events Policy Research Funding Trend watch Coming up EVENTS Spaceflight crashes US government investigators are probing the 31 October crash of Virgin Galactic rocketplane SpaceShipTwo , which killed one of the craft’s two pilots. The plane was on a test flight for commercial space travel. Three days earlier, a crewless Antares rocket exploded seconds after being launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, destroying scientific equipment and experiments headed for the International Space Station. Orbital Sciences in Dulles, Virginia, which operated the Antares, is one of only two private companies with a NASA contract to fly cargo to the space station. See page 15 and Nature http://doi.org/ws5 (2014) for more. USGS/Getty Lava invades Hawaiian town A creeping lava flow from the volcano Kilauea on Hawaii is threatening a community of almost 1,000 people. The flow (pictured), which began on 27 June, has travelled roughly 20 kilometres and reached the town of Pahoa, where it has overrun pastures, a cemetery and private property on a course that is heading for the town’s main road. The US National Guard was deployed last week to help to erect a roadblock, and about 20 families were told to evacuate their homes. By 30 October, the leading edge had stalled 155 metres from the road, but on 2 November, the US Geological Survey reported active lava breakouts from parts of the flow. Kilauea is the most active volcano on Hawaii; its current eruption began in 1983. POLICY One of the gang Poland signed an agreement on 28 October to join the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The country is set to become the ESO’s 14th European member state once its parliament ratifies the agreement. Membership of the organization will give Polish astronomers access to the ESO’s ground-based telescopes. It will also allow companies in Poland to bid for contracts to build the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, which is being constructed in Cerro Armazones in Chile. Brazil, the ESO’s only non-European member, has yet to ratify an accession agreement that it signed in 2010. Climate warning The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned of « severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems » if greenhouse-gas emissions are not substantially reduced over the next few decades. The warning, addressed to policy-makers, is included in the summary of the IPCC’s fifth assessment report of climate risks, released on 2 November in Copenhagen. The summary distills the latest contributions by the IPCC’s three working groups to the fifth assessment, as well as two special reports. Vaccine approval US regulators on 29 October approved a vaccine against a deadly strain of a bacterium that causes meningitis. Trumenba, produced by a subsidiary of Pfizer of New York, fends off infection by Neisseria meningitides serogroup B – a class of bacterium known for causing outbreaks among university students. Last December, the Food and Drug Administration allowed the use of a different meningitis vaccine that is not approved in the United States – but is available in Europe – at universities where outbreaks had occurred. Polar talks fail The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources concluded its annual meeting in Hobart, Australia, on 31 October, without agreeing on a plan to create a massive marine reserve in the Ross Sea. The commission, made up of representatives from 24 countries and the European Union, has failed 3 times before to agree on similar plans to ban fishing in what some researchers say is the most endangered area of the polar region (see Nature http://doi.org/wtt; 2014). Emissions fines The US Environmental Protection Agency announced on 3 November that car makers Hyundai and Kia will pay the largest settlement ever for alleged violations of the US Clean Air Act. The companies are said to have sold nearly 1.2 million vehicles that will collectively emit about 4.75 million tonnes of greenhouse gases above the amount that the companies certified to the agency. In addition to a US$100-million penalty, they will also forfeit 4.75 million previously claimed greenhouse-gas emissions credits, estimated to be worth more than $200 million. Ren Junchuan/Xinhua/eyevine RESEARCH Lunar loop China successfully completed its first robotic mission to the Moon and back on 1 November. Launched on 23 October, the probe flew around the Moon and survived re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere to land safely in Inner Mongolia (pictured). The vehicle, nicknamed Xiaofei, or little flyer, had no scientific goals, but was intended to test technology for Chang’e-5, a mission to return lunar samples to Earth planned for 2017. The success makes China the first country to fly a probe around the Moon and back since the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Political research On 28 October, the presidents of Stanford University in California and Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, issued a public apology for a controversial political-science experiment in Montana. The study aimed to test whether voters’ decisions would be affected by pre-election flyers that characterized the political attitudes of state Supreme Court candidates. Roughly 100,000 people received the flyer, which appeared to be an official government document because it bore the state’s seal. Stanford said that the research had not been submitted for approval by its institutional review board; both universities are investigating other possible violations. Falsified data The US Office of Research Integrity on 29 October reported findings that a former laboratory director at the US National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, had committed research misconduct. An investigation concluded that Bijan Ahvazi, previously the head of the Laboratory of X-ray Crystallography, had falsified data related to three publications. As part of a settlement, Ahvazi has agreed to have his research supervised and to be excluded from peer-review committees for agencies such as the US National Institutes of Health for two years. FUNDING Funding boon Germany’s universities and large science organizations have been promised a boost to help them to cope with rising student enrolment and the increasing costs of research. At their meeting on 30 October, science ministers from the federal government and Germany’s 16 state governments pledged €25.3 billion (US$31.6 billion) over the next six years to continue special programmes for science and higher education. See go.nature.com/6qsa5n for more. Money for malaria The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced on 2 November a US$156-million contribution to the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. The donation will support two lines of development: vaccines that prevent people from becoming infected after being bitten by infected mosquitoes, and transmission-blocking vaccines that prevent mosquitoes from becoming infected when they bite people with malaria – with special attention to vaccines that combine both features. Source: k. Smith/gideon data set TREND WATCH A global analysis suggests that human infectious-disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent and more diverse (K. Smith et al. J. R. Soc. Interface 11, 20140950; 2014). A team led by Katherine Smith of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, found that the trends were significant even after correcting for changes in surveillance and reporting (for example, using indirect measures such as Internet use). However, the number of cases per person is falling, they find. COMING UP 8–9 November On the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city holds the sixth Falling Walls Conference. Scientists from around the world discuss impending breakthroughs in areas including cancer care, neuroengineering and global energy. go.nature.com/beyrwm 12 November The European Space Agency’s Rosetta craft attempts to land a washing-machine-sized probe on the surface of comet 67P/C-G. 12–19 November The World Parks Congress takes place in Sydney, Australia, featuring sessions on the use of mobile technology in conservation, successes and challenges in rhino conservation and the future of privately protected areas. go.nature.com/c51ghb. Whales are like trees – when it comes to carbon credits. Getty Biological oceanographer Andrew Pershing wants carbon credits for whale conservation. That’s because whales, he says, are like trees. « Like any animal or plant, they are made out of carbon. And whales are so big they each store a lot of carbon, » he says. Pershing, of the University of Maine in Orono and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Maine, calculates that even though some whale species are now recovering from the effects of factory whaling, total whale biomass today is less than one-fifth of what it was in 1900, before whaling decimated the population. Letting the whale population recover, he said on 25 February at the American Geophysical Union’s 2010 Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland, Oregon, could eventually sequester 9 million tonnes of carbon in their combined biomass. He compares it to planting trees. « In a forest, trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and accumulate that as biomass. Whales take carbon out of the system through their food, then incorporate that carbon in their tissues. » Whaling, by contrast, is like cutting down trees for firewood. « You’re taking whales out of the population and putting their carbon somewhere else. » In the early days of whaling, Pershing explains, that carbon was going straight into the atmosphere through the burning of whale oil in lamps, for example. More recently, he says, the carbon is released through the consumption of whale meat by humans, « but you’re still taking carbon out of the whale and putting it into something that’s going to respire it ». Furthermore, when whales die naturally, they usually sink to the bottom of the ocean, carrying their carbon with them. Back in 1900, when whale numbers were high, that would have totalled about 200,000 tonnes of carbon per year, Pershing estimates. Even though benthic creatures eventually eat the whale carcasses (see ‘Bone-devouring worms discovered’), the carbon will remain in the depths, Pershing says, staying « out of the atmosphere for potentially hundreds of years ». Carbon consumers By comparison, 9 million tonnes is only a small fraction of the 7 billion tonnes of carbon entering the atmosphere each year from human activities, Pershing says, but it’s still a lot. It’s equivalent to 11,000 square kilometres of temperate forest, or 11,000 Hummers driving for 100 years, says Pershing. It’s also comparable to the amount of carbon involved in forest-management schemes being proposed for buying and selling carbon credits, he said. « People would pay a lot to preserve an area of forest that big. » If whales increase in numbers, other species that compete for the same food might decline. But even if ocean food supplies are limited, there could still be a substantial increase in total biomass owing to the difference in size between whales and the organisms they could displace. Because large animals require less food per unit mass than smaller animals, any given food source (such as krill) can support a lot more biomass in a whale than in a small animal such as a penguin. Rebuilding stocks Other scientists greeted Pershing’s presentation with enthusiasm. « It’s exciting, » says Daniel Costa, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. « It means that whales are important not just because they’re charismatic, but because they play an important role in the carbon cycle. » Furthermore, he says, Pershing’s research may actually understate the degree to which whales could sequester carbon. The iron in whale faeces is an important micronutrient that is often in short supply in waters such as the Southern Ocean, and it can help boost algal growth – which ultimately means more food for everything, including whales. « In order to drive these large algal blooms you need iron, » says Costa. In fact, he says, the indirect benefits of iron fertilization from whale faeces might remove more carbon from the atmosphere by boosting algal growth than the growth of the whales themselves. Pershing adds that the same analysis applies to other large ocean animals whose populations have been drastically reduced, such as bluefin tuna and some species of shark. « These guys are huge, » he says. And even though all of these animals’ biomass combined represents a small fraction of total human carbon emissions, they could still sequester many tonnes of carbon. « You could use carbon as one of the incentives to rebuild the stores of these large organisms, » Pershing says.

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