As work progresses on ITER’s Cryostat Workshop, the megaproject has been caught in geopolitical tensions reminiscent of the Cold War.

ITER Organization

As work progresses on ITER’s Cryostat Workshop, the megaproject has been caught in geopolitical tensions reminiscent of the Cold War.

Tensions with Russia over the unrest in Ukraine are inflicting collateral damage on science. ScienceInsider has learned that several U.S. scientists have pulled out of upcoming conferences in Russia.

Some cancellations stem from policy guidance that the U.S. government issued to agencies this spring to clamp down on travel by government scientists to Russia. Based on that guidance, NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) announced in April that they would block most government travel to Russia; other agencies are reviewing and in some cases not allowing such travel. “There has been some diplomatic pushing and shoving behind the scenes,” says Dale Meade, a physicist emeritus with the U.S. DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey.

Some DOE scientists who had planned to attend the International Atomic Energy Agency’s conference on fusion in St. Petersburg in October have requested permission to travel there but have not received any guidance. The approval process for travel to Russia is shrouded in secrecy, says Rita Guenther, a program officer at the National Academies in Washington, D.C., who is tracking the issue. “There is no one policy that all agencies share. Each meeting is looked at independently, and each instance of scientific cooperation is looked at independently.”

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U.K.'s 100,000 Genomes Project gets £300 million to finish the job by 2017

Genomics England

England's giant sequencing endeavor, the 100,000 Genomes Project, is getting a cash injection from public and private sources to meet its 2017 deadline, Prime Minister David Cameron announced today.

The project, launched by the U.K. government in 2012 and run by a state-owned company called Genomics England, aims to sequence 100,000 whole genomes of patients in the National Health Service's (NHS) records. The goal is to match genomic and clinical data to develop personalized therapies for cancer and rare diseases and to turn NHS into “the first mainstream health service in the world to offer genomic medicine as part of routine care,” according to the project's website.

So far, a few hundred genomes have been sequenced in Genomics England's pilot efforts across the country. The funding package announced today will allow the project to ramp up its activities to sequence about 10,000 samples next year and 100,000 by the end of 2017.

Most of the money comes from a deal with Illumina, a U.S. company that manufactures DNA sequencing machines: Genomics England will pay £78 million for Illumina to carry out the genetic sequencing, and the company will invest £162 million in the country over the next 4 years, the government said in a statement today. Illumina was picked out of six volunteer companies after sequencing trials, for its “superior product” and its ability to keep up with sequencing technology over time, said John Chisholm, chair of Genomics England, at a press briefing in London yesterday.

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Yoweri Museveni

DFID - UK Department for International Development/Wikimedia Commons

Yoweri Museveni

An antigay law passed earlier this year in Uganda despite the protests of activists and scientists has been nullified by one of the nation’s courts, which ruled that the legislation had been improperly approved by the country’s Parliament. Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni had justified the law by citing findings from a special scientific committee on homosexuality convened by the government, even though, as Science reported in February, researchers on that panel said their work was being misrepresented and several resigned in protest. The legislation could be passed again, or the government may appeal the ruling to the country’s Supreme Court.Continue Reading »

NASA's Mars 2020 rover to feature lean, nimble science payload

NASA

At first blush, the Mars rover that NASA hopes to launch in 2020 is a near twin to Curiosity, which is now exploring the Red Planet. It will use the same chassis and will be delivered to the surface with the same “sky crane” system. But today’s announcement of the seven instruments that will ride on the new rover’s payload makes it clear that the Mars 2020 rover will be much leaner.

The numbers speak for themselves: Curiosity supports a payload of 75 kilograms built at a cost of about $180 million; the Mars 2020 rover payload will weigh 40 kilograms and cost $130 million. The reductions are in part to make room for rock samples to be stashed for eventual return to Earth. Being lean will also keep the rover free of complicated, time-consuming instruments that could hamper it from assembling a diverse cache of rocks in just a few short years.

Some of the instruments offer incremental advances over their counterparts on Curiosity. For example, the Mastcam-Z will have a zoom lens, which will allow researchers to build 3D movies (something that MastCam principal investigator Mike Malin wanted to do with filmmaker James Cameron on Curiosity before that capability was descoped). More importantly, the zoom camera will allow the rover to look out farther into a planned drive and identify hazards—permitting longer and more autonomous daily traverses. And some of the instruments, such as a Norwegian-built ground-penetrating radar, are completely new.

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FUNAI

Today the Brazilian Indian affairs department, FUNAI, posted an 8-minute video (also above) of a complex contact episode between members of an isolated tribe and outsiders, some of whom appear to be Brazilian officials. Seven tribespeople first made contact in late June along the Upper Envira River in western Brazil, and subsequently contracted influenza. After being treated by a FUNAI medical team, the tribespeople, ranging in age from about 12 to 21, returned to their Amazon forest village.

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Diego Gómez coming up for air in February 2014.

Courtesy of Diego Gómez

Diego Gómez coming up for air in February 2014.

Diego Gómez Hoyos is studying for a master’s degree in conservation and wildlife management. But his thirst for knowledge is also threatening his freedom.

The 26-year-old Colombian biologist faces up to 8 years in prison for posting a copy of another scientist’s thesis online. Colombia, like many other countries, grants strong protections to authors. In 2006, its law was revised to bring it into agreement with a free trade agreement with the United States, lengthening jail times and increasing fines.

“What worries our community is how a relationship of colleagues turned into a tremendous legal affair, with these horrible consequences,” writes Ángela Suárez-Mayorga of the University of the Andes in Bogotá, to ScienceInsider in an e-mail. “Nobody believes that Gómez should go to jail for sharing a document.”

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The two main science instruments on the 2016 InSight mission to Mars are a French-built seismometer and a German-built heat probe.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

The two main science instruments on the 2016 InSight mission to Mars are a French-built seismometer and a German-built heat probe.

How much international collaboration is too much? When it comes to foreign instruments provided to NASA planetary science missions, the answer is anything more than 33%.

Earlier this month, NASA unveiled a draft set of rules for its next Discovery competition, which funds planetary science missions costing no more than $450 million. Today, at a meeting of asteroid and comet scientists in Washington, D.C., NASA officials explained some of the new rules for the next mission, to be selected in 2016. Among them was a stipulation that the principal investigator would not be allowed to recruit foreign instrument contributions in excess of one-third the value of the U.S. instruments on the payload, even though those contributions don’t count against the $450 million cap.

The new rule is a response to a current Discovery-class mission with no major U.S.-made instruments. InSight, a Mars lander built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, that will launch in 2016, carries a French-made seismometer and a German-made heat probe. “The American scientific instrument community was not happy with that,” says Michael New, the lead Discovery Program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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Congress wants to see more ecological recovery in the Gulf of Mexico, such as this oyster restoration project in Alabama.

NOAA

Congress wants to see more ecological recovery in the Gulf of Mexico, such as this oyster restoration project in Alabama.

More than 4 years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and unleashed a torrent of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, only a trickle of funding for repair of ecological damage has been spent. At an oversight hearing today by a U.S. Senate subcommittee, senators voiced their impatience with an interagency council in charge of a lot of the money. “You all have had 2 years,” Senator Bill Nelson (D–FL) told three members of the council who testified. “It’s time to get moving.” Council members blamed the delay on a Catch-22: States don’t have the money to plan how to spend restoration funds.

There are three main pools of money intended to help the Gulf of Mexico recover, not just from the 2010 oil spill but also from long-standing deterioration. The first comes from the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, a process run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, which has already provided a $600 million down payment for restoration projects from future fines against the energy company BP, which had the drilling permit. More money is coming from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It is spending a $2.5 billion Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund set up in a plea agreement with BP and Transocean, which owned the drill platform. The third pot will come from the federal trial against BP, which is still ongoing, and Transocean, which already settled, for violating the Clean Water Act. BP’s fine, to be determined in the penalty phase of the trial, which starts in January, could be as much as $20 billion. Under a 2012 law called the RESTORE Act, 80% of the total fines would be spent in the Gulf. Because Transocean settled its case for $1 billion, the fund already has $800...Continue Reading »

The Narrabri array will only be operated remotely.

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

The Narrabri array will only be operated remotely.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Australian space scientists are lamenting news that up to 30 astronomy jobs will be eliminated at the national research body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The $21-million-a-year CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) program is being reduced by 15% in the wake of an austerity budget announced in May by the country’s conservative government.

CSIRO’s current budget of roughly $700 million is being trimmed by $27 million in this fiscal year and a total of $115 million over the next 4 years. That reduction could lead to as many as 420 fewer jobs across the agency. But those cuts are not spread equally across the agency’s portfolio: Some areas are relatively unaffected, while the space science program is being hit especially hard.

“We’ve been forced into a completely reactive mode,” says CASS head Lewis Ball. In addition to the size of the cuts, Ball is unhappy with what he sees as the frequent changes in government policy toward research and the lack of stable funding for the country’s shared major research facilities. The current ad hoc approach, he says, “barely stops us from dropping off the edge of the cliff each year.”

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Found in Alaskan fisheries, Tanner crabs have been shown to grow more slowly and die off in laboratory studies.

Wikimedia

Found in Alaskan fisheries, Tanner crabs have been shown to grow more slowly and die off in laboratory studies.

A new study finds that Alaska fisheries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification as the region’s seas continue to sour.

The catch from Alaska fisheries—which accounted for 50% of the United States’ total catch in 2009—is part of a complex food web that relies on delicate levels of chemicals in the ocean. But the pH levels in the four seas that ring Alaska—the Chukchi, Beaufort, Bering, and Gulf of Alaska—has dropped by 0.1 units since the Industrial Revolution and is forecast to lower about another 0.4 units by the end of the century. Alaska’s cold waters naturally absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than warmer waters do, and its upwelling currents bring more acidic waters to the surface, making it harder for organisms like mollusks to form their shells.

Meanwhile, a series of laboratory studies have shown that key shellfish and finfish species—and the microorganisms they eat—could be negatively harmed by those acidified waters, facing risks to their shells or metabolic systems.  

The new research, to be published in Progress in Oceanography, sought to forecast how the risk of souring seas could impact Alaska economically.

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Left to right: Marin Soljačić, Rachel Wilson, and Adam Cohen

Courtesy of the Blavatnik Family Foundation

Left to right: Marin Soljačić, Rachel Wilson, and Adam Cohen

Harvard University chemical biologist Adam Cohen uses light to answer some of neuroscience’s most pressing questions. He and his colleagues have found a promising way to optically measure brain activity down to the level of the individual neuron by engineering these nerve cells with proteins that glow whenever the cells fire.

But this week the spotlight is shining on him. Cohen is one of three researchers to win the inaugural Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, which seek to recognize America’s “most innovative young faculty-rank scientists and engineers” under the age of 43. He is joined by neurobiologist Rachel Wilson, also of Harvard, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Marin Soljačić.

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Google's researchers are planning a large study of human health.

Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons

Google's researchers are planning a large study of human health.

Google X, the secretive research arm of Google Inc., is making a major foray into clinical research with the goal of pinning down what it means to be healthy. The Mountain View, California, company revealed last week that it will launch a project, the Baseline Study, to follow thousands of people and identify patterns of biochemicals, proteins, genetic mutations, and other measurements that correlate with who remains well and who gets sick.

The project was first reported on 24 July by The Wall Street Journal, whose story described it as Google’s “most ambitious and difficult science project ever” and “a giant leap into the unknown.” It will “know the structure of thousands of people’s bodies—down to the molecules inside their cells,” raising “significant issues of privacy,” according to the article.

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A map of Spain's most valuable landscapes, produced by researchers from the Spanish National Research Council, one of the institutions the panel says should be reformed.

Spanish National Research Council

A map of Spain's most valuable landscapes, produced by researchers from the Spanish National Research Council, one of the institutions the panel says should be reformed.

BARCELONA, SPAIN—More cash and many profound structural changes—that, according to a panel of European experts, is what Spain's national science and innovation system needs to become more competitive.

A full report will be issued later, but on Thursday, the group released a six-page document containing its key messages. It says the Spanish government should raise its contribution to science and innovation to 0.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and argues for the creation of a national funding agency that gives out merit-based grants, more autonomy for the universities, and a major overhaul of Spain's national research centers. Above all, what is needed is a stronger culture of evaluation and accountability, even if it means increasing inequality between universities, the document says.

The report was put together at the request of the Spanish government by a peer-review panel of the European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC), chaired by Luke Georghiou, vice president for research and innovation at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

The report acknowledges “islands of excellence” in Spain, in particular a fleet of recently created research institutes that enjoy greater autonomy. But it deplores the “low” performance of the Spanish science system as a whole. The system's main ills, it says, are fragmented governance, insufficient mobility of people and knowledge across institutions, a lack of effective science policies and research performance evaluations, and the private sector's meager R&D contribution.

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In the Oso landslide, soil rapidly liquefied and shot across the valley.

U.S. Geological Survey/Photo by Jonathan Godt

In the Oso landslide, soil rapidly liquefied and shot across the valley.

One of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history was unleashed when part of a mountain collapsed onto a rain-sodden slope, sending a wall of mud shooting through a Washington state neighborhood, according to a federal landslide expert.

The new account from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) differs from the explanation offered by the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) Association, which on Tuesday unveiled the first published analysis of the 22 March  slide. The accident killed 43 in the little town of Oso at the edge of Washington’s Cascade Mountains.

The difference revolves around a critical question: What caused a hillside with a history of relatively minor landslides to suddenly turn into a tsunami of mud and debris that sped about a kilometer across a valley? The findings could influence what signs scientists look for when trying to detect other potentially explosive slides.

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Smoke rises from a Fukushima reactor damaged in the 11 March 2011 disaster.

Digital Globe/Wikimedia Commons

Smoke rises from a Fukushima reactor damaged in the 11 March 2011 disaster.

To avoid the kind of complacency over safety that led to the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, U.S. nuclear plant operators and regulators must be prepared to take timely action to upgrade plant safety features in line with advances in the understanding of natural hazards, states a report released today.

The report, Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants, was written by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences. The panel drew on Japanese and international investigations into the causes of the Fukushima disaster, precipitated by the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011.

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An artist's conception of NASA's Europa Clipper mission.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

An artist's conception of NASA's Europa Clipper mission.

Hunter Waite has waited years for the chance to use his planetary science engineering chops on a mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Now, the director of the space and engineering program at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, may finally get that chance.

Last week, setting its sights firmly on the outer reaches of our solar system, NASA invited scientists to submit designs for instruments that could ride to Europa on the agency’s proposed Clipper mission. NASA ultimately plans to pick 15 to 20 proposals to receive about $1 million each for further development—making the Clipper competition one of the largest of its kind in 25 years.

But Clipper, which NASA hopes to launch in the 2020s, is still a long way from securing the estimated $2 billion to $3 billion it will need to get off the ground.

Still, NASA’s move has sparked excitement among researchers such as Waite, who has spent half of his adult life on projects associated with the jovian moon. “Most people in the community think we’re way overdue for doing this,” he says. “It has been high on [researchers’] recommendation list for many years. It’s time.”

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Broad Institute receives $650 million for psychiatric research

Nicolas Rougier/Wikimedia

The Broad Institute, a collaborative biomedical research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has received a $650 million donation from philanthropist and businessman Ted Stanley to study the biological basis of diseases such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The largest donation ever made to psychiatric research, the gift totals nearly six times the current $110 million annual budget for President Barack Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Stanley has already given Broad $175 million, and the $650 million will be provided as an annual cash flow on the order of tens of millions each year, with the remainder to be given after Stanley’s death. (See other coverage here and here.)

The gift accompanies a paper published online today in Nature from researchers at Broad and worldwide, which identifies more than 100 areas of the human genome associated with schizophrenia, based on samples from almost 37,000 people with schizophrenia and about 113,000 without the disease. Researchers are likely to find hundreds of additional genetic variations associated with the disease as the number of patients sampled grows, says psychiatrist Kenneth Kendler of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics in Richmond, a co-author on the study.

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Senator Jay Rockefeller (D–WV)

U.S. Senate

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D–WV)

Taking issue with its counterpart in the U.S. House of Representatives, a Senate panel has embraced how the National Science Foundation (NSF) does its business in a bill that sets policies and recommends funding levels for NSF over the next 5 years.

The proposed legislation, released Friday afternoon in draft form by the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, calls on Congress to increase NSF’s budget by nearly 40%, to $9.9 billion, by 2019. It also endorses NSF’s current policies for reviewing grant proposals and—in sharp contrast to a House bill—emphasizes the importance of the social sciences as part of a balanced research portfolio.

“[T]he Federal science agencies should receive sustained and steady growth in funding for research and development activities, including basic research, across a wide range of disciplines, including … [the] social, behavioral, and economic sciences,” declares the 146-page Senate bill, titled the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014. The legislation, which sets policies affecting research programs at NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology as well as science education activities across the federal government, would replace the 2010 America COMPETES Act, which expired last year.

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The U.S. government is heading toward advice on sustainable diets.

USMC

The U.S. government is heading toward advice on sustainable diets.

Advice about a healthy diet might soon take the planet itself into account. The next version of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the major nutrition report from the government agencies that brought you the food pyramid, seems likely to contain advice about sustainable food choices. The prospect is already generating controversy.

Every 5 years, a new set of dietary advice comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It usually boils down to what your parents told you about eating a balanced diet. In 2010, the guidelines tried something new, switching from a food pyramid to a plate (and, for the first time, specifically urging Americans to eat more fish and less pizza). The changes are based on a review of recent research findings by outside scientists, whose recommendations are turned into guidelines by agency scientists and officials.

At an advisory panel meeting today, scientists discussed why it matters how the food you eat is produced. A subcommittee on food sustainability and safety, chaired by Miriam Nelson, a nutritionist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, presented its preliminary conclusions. "Promoting more sustainable diets will contribute to food security for present and future generations by conserving resources," the subcommittee found. "This approach should be encouraged across all food sectors."

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Cora Marrett steps down as NSF deputy director

Photo by Sandy Schaeffer

Cora Marrett has been a jack-of-all-trades administrator at the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a good part of the past 2 decades, including two stints as acting director of the $7 billion agency. Yesterday, the 72-year-old sociologist announced she will retire next month, before the end of her term as NSF’s deputy director, and return home to Wisconsin.

“I’m been commuting for 7 years, with my husband [Louis Marrett] in Madison,” she told ScienceInsider today. “As you know, the past year has been very challenging, with the shutdown and the effects of sequestration. And having seen that NSF was moving along and that the prospects looked very good, I thought this would be a good time to go home, as I had planned.”

Marrett’s decision to leave on 24 August comes 4 months after France Córdova took up the reins as NSF’s 14th director. In addition to dealing with the government-wide funding crunch, NSF has spent the past year battling Republican legislators over how it manages its grants portfolio, including its funding of the social sciences. Some U.S. science policy observers say the agency was put at a disadvantage in that fight by Marrett’s status as acting director.

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This former building belonging to drug developer Merck Serono will soon house a center devoted to neuroprosthetics.

Cathrin Badzung - Merck KGaA Germany, Corporate Communications [CC BY-SA 3.0]

This former building belonging to drug developer Merck Serono will soon house a center devoted to neuroprosthetics.

Neuroscientist John Donoghue of Brown University has spent the past decade working on brain-machine interfaces that allow paralyzed people to control prosthetic limbs using only their minds, a project called BrainGate. This summer, he’s packing his bags for Switzerland to become director of the new Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro-Engineering in Geneva, part of the resurrection of an extensive research facility abandoned by pharma giant Merck Serono in 2012. The firm sold the site last year to Swiss billionaires Hansjörg Wyss and Ernesto Bertarelli—Bertarelli used to run the biotech firm Serono before Merck purchased it. The new center, funded with more than $100 million from a foundation started by Wyss, will host more than a dozen new laboratories devoted to research in areas such as neuroengineering and regenerative engineering. Science talked to Donoghue about the move. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Joep Lange is remembered as one  of the most loved and respected people in his field.

AIGHD

Joep Lange is remembered as one of the most loved and respected people in his field.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—As thousands of researchers gathered here today to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference, which starts Sunday, the usual joyous hugs of greeting between far-flung colleagues were replaced by hugs of sorrow at the loss of Dutch HIV scientist Joep Lange, a leading light in the field, and at least five others heading to the meeting who were on the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine on 17 July.

Media reports today speculated that as many as 100 HIV researchers may have been aboard the downed jet, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur—a number repeated by President Barack Obama in his remarks today on the tragedy. But at what was supposed to be a celebratory dinner tonight for select delegates, Sharon Lewin, co-chair of the meeting, said that so far, six people expected to come to the meeting were known to have boarded the flight: Lange, his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren, three others working in the HIV/AIDS field in the Netherlands, and World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Glenn Thomas. “We actually don’t know the full story,” said Lewin, a researcher here at the Burnet Institute. (A story in The Washington Post says the meeting has now confirmed seven names.)

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Gas field in Utah's Uinta Basin.

Google Maps

Gas field in Utah's Uinta Basin.

MISSOULA, MONTANA—New energy development in the United States could take up a land area roughly twice the size of Maine by 2040, according to a new estimate. Building the new coal mines, oil and gas wells, and solar and wind farms needed to meet projected energy production levels could require an additional 175,000 to 250,000 square kilometers of real estate, researchers reported here at the North America Congress for Conservation Biology. Such “energy sprawl” will complicate efforts to preserve wildlife habitat, they predicted.

“There is going to be a very large challenge in siting all of this energy infrastructure,” says landscape ecologist Anne Trainor of Yale University, who is developing the estimates with Joseph Fargione, a science director at the Nature Conservancy in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “But it is important that we understand how much space we might need under different scenarios, and be able to understand the trade-offs related to different energy sources.”

To get that big picture, the researchers built on a similar 2009 analysis that appeared in PLOS ONE.  Drawing on official energy forecasts, they explore four scenarios: a “business-as-usual” world that assumes no major changes in energy trends; an “increased oil and gas” future in which those fuels play a bigger role; a “limited carbon” world which includes government curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels; and a “renewables” future that includes expanded solar, wind, and biofuel energy production. They then estimate how much new land would be needed for each energy source through 2040, including infrastructure like roads and transmission lines. A conventional gas well, for example, typically requires 2 to 4 hectares. They made the numbers comparable by converting everything to a common unit, “kilometers squared per terawatt hour” of energy produced.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Bucking global efforts to curtail carbon pollution, Australia’s conservative government yesterday abolished a national carbon tax that it had long opposed. The move to “ax the tax”—as Prime Minister Tony Abbott is fond of saying—makes Australia the first country in the world to abolish a functioning carbon pricing scheme.

In 2009, Abbott, then leader of the opposition, dismissed climate change as “absolute crap.” The centerpiece of Australia’s Clean Energy Act passed in 2012, the carbon tax required 350 of the nation’s biggest polluters to purchase carbon credits, valued at AU$23 per ton, if they exceeded their allotted targets.  At a press conference on Thursday, Abbott hailed the demise of the “useless, destructive tax.”

Australian researchers have condemned the move. The tax repeal is a “dereliction of duty with respect to the rights of young people and future generations,” says energy research expert Hugh Outhred of the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “The perfect storm of stupidity,” adds Roger Jones, a specialist in climate change risk and adaptation at Victoria University in Melbourne. Scrapping the tax, he argues, demonstrates a “complete disregard” for the science of climate change. “It’s hard to imagine a more effective combination of poor reasoning and bad policymaking.”

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The ISS headquarters in Rome.

Ferdinando Chiodo/Wikimedia Commons

The ISS headquarters in Rome.

The Italian government has chosen a prominent scientist to take charge of the country’s leading biomedical research institute with the goal of improving its precarious financial situation. But some researchers at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) are worried that implementing the needed fiscal reforms will also result in curtailing programs and cutting staff.

Gualtiero Ricciardi, professor of hygiene and public health at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Rome, began his new job today as ISS commissioner. He replaces Fabrizio Oleari, who became ISS president last year amid controversy about his scientific qualifications for the job.

Last month, the Italian government declared that ISS was in receivership “because of the financial situation of deficit recorded in the financial statements for two consecutive years," and on Tuesday Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin named Ricciardi for a 6-month stint as ISS commissioner. Ricciardi now heads the Department of Public Health in Rome and is completing a 4-year term as president of the European Public Health Association.

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