COVID reinfections, sneezing hamsters and huge methane emissions


People walk past a COVID-19 testing sign on the street, during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, New York, U.S.

Instances of coronavirus reinfection are growing all over the world.Credit score: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

COVID reinfections surge throughout Omicron wave

For the reason that Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 was first detected, the variety of individuals reinfected with the coronavirus has been rising sharply — a pattern that was not noticed with earlier variants. Researchers say that Omicron might be driving the surge as a result of it will probably evade the physique’s immune defences.

In England, greater than 650,000 individuals have in all probability been contaminated twice; most of them had been reinfected prior to now two months, in accordance with knowledge collected by the UK Well being Safety Company. The company considers an an infection a ‘attainable reinfection’ if it occurred at the least three months after a earlier one. Earlier than mid-November, reinfections accounted for about 1% of reported instances of COVID-19, however the charge has now elevated to round 10%.

“The power of Omicron to contaminate individuals with both vaccine- or infection-derived immunity is a key a part of what made the latest surge so giant,” says Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious-disease researcher on the College of California, Santa Cruz.

Measuring reinfection charges helps to evaluate “how infections may surge”, says Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at Deakin College in Melbourne, Australia.

‘Dangerously quick’ progress in atmospheric methane

Methane concentrations within the ambiance raced previous 1,900 elements per billion final 12 months, almost triple pre-industrial ranges, in accordance with knowledge launched in January by the US Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists say the grim milestone underscores the significance of a pledge made ultimately 12 months’s COP26 local weather summit to curb emissions of methane, a greenhouse fuel at the least 28 instances as potent as carbon dioxide.

The expansion of methane emissions slowed across the flip of the millennium, however started a speedy and mysterious uptick round 2007. The spike has induced many researchers to fret that international warming is making a suggestions mechanism that may trigger ever extra methane to be launched, making it even tougher to rein in rising temperatures.

A worrying trend: Line chart showing the rise in atmospheric methane levels since 1985.

Supply: NOAA

“Methane ranges are rising dangerously quick,” says Euan Nisbet, an Earth scientist at Royal Holloway, College of London, in Egham, UK.

Some researchers assume that a lot of the rise prior to now 15 years could be attributable to microbial sources, somewhat than the extraction of fossil fuels. The emissions are a significant menace to the world’s aim of limiting international warming to 1.5–2 °C over pre-industrial temperatures.

Workers in full PPE at the Little Boss pet store in Hong Kong

A suspected outbreak at a pet store in January led to a cull of hamsters in Hong Kong.Credit score: Chan Lengthy Hei/Bloomberg/Getty

Sneezing hamsters sparked Hong Kong COVID outbreak

Pet hamsters in all probability carried the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 into Hong Kong and sparked a human COVID-19 outbreak, in accordance with a genomic evaluation of viral samples from the rodents. The analysis confirms earlier fears {that a} pet store was the supply of the outbreak, which had, by early February, contaminated about 50 individuals and led to the culling of some 2,000 hamsters throughout the town.

Hamsters are extremely prone to SARS-CoV-2 and so are a preferred mannequin for finding out the virus. However the Hong Kong research — posted on-line as a preprint and but to be peer reviewed — is the primary to point out that hamsters can change into contaminated exterior the laboratory, and that they’ll cross the virus on, each to different hamsters and to people (H.-L. Yen et al. Preprint at Social Science Analysis Community https://doi.org/hh9r; 2022). Hamsters are solely the second animal identified to have the ability to infect individuals, after mink. In late 2020, small outbreaks of COVID-19 in individuals in Denmark and the Netherlands had been linked to farmed mink, sparking panic and mass culls.

The most recent research factors to the pet commerce as a route for viral unfold, says co-author Leo Poon, a virologist on the College of Hong Kong. However “to be honest to the hamsters”, persons are nonetheless more likely to be contaminated by one another than by pets, he says.

Methane sensors could prevent the gas from getting into our atmosphere—and homes | NOVA



Tech + EngineeringTech & Engineering

Methane is a greenhouse gasoline 86 instances as potent as carbon dioxide. What if we may see methane emissions in actual time?

Water flowing from a Weatherford, Texas resident’s properly ignites when he places a flame to the properly spigot. The U.S. Environmental Safety Company had proof a gasoline firm’s drilling operation contaminated his consuming water with explosive methane, however withdrew its enforcement motion, leaving the household with no useable water provide, in response to a report obtained by The Related Press. Picture Credit score: Lm Otero/AP/Shutterstock

You’ve seen the pictures: floating islands of plastic within the ocean, marine life entangled in nets and features. Whether or not within the ocean or on land, plastic pollution—and their results—are sometimes seen.

However not all pollution are.

“What most individuals don’t understand is that there was air pollution for a very long time,” says Desiree Plata, an environmental engineer and chemist on the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how (MIT). “Most of it we simply can’t see.”

Enter methane, a colorless, odorless chemical that, like carbon dioxide and different greenhouse gases, contributes to local weather change by gathering in our ambiance and trapping radiation from the solar. Methane is emitted into the air by many sources, together with melting permafrost, gassy cows, and oil and gasoline drilling websites. And it’s about 86 instances stronger than carbon dioxide, in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Local weather Change.

Methane is the primary ingredient in pure gasoline, which powers 48% of properties in america. Industrial pure gasoline is scented with odorants to make a possible gasoline leak detectable, alerting a resident to close off their range or monitor down the leak.

“I wish to name methane ‘the elephant within the ambiance,’” Plata says. “It’s the gasoline everybody must be speaking about, however few folks find out about.”

However now, a crew at MIT is producing sensors to permit folks to “see” methane, and in the end monitor down its sources and mitigate its dangerous results.

Sensor expertise: by chemical substances, for chemical substances

These methane sensors, developed by chemist Tim Swager and his crew at MIT, fluctuate in measurement relying on how giant of an space a person want to monitor. The sensors may very well be huge, formed like a laptop computer briefcase for simple carrying. Or they may very well be small, in regards to the measurement of a sticker, and formed just like the flat chip in your bank card.

The sensors are cheap, low-power units that may detect methane emissions in nature and at industrial websites, Swager mentioned in an electronic mail. The corporate C2Sense is working together with his crew’s expertise, which may very well be in the marketplace inside a number of years.

Although they’re not but licensed for business use, Swager’s methane sensors have the potential to be as broadly used because the carbon monoxide detectors now we have in our properties. Methane is current in pure, industrial, and agricultural environments, and generally leaches into consuming water by way of the bottom within the type of tiny gasoline bubbles, that means that anybody—from a farmer to an engineer to a house owner—may use a sensor to get a greater concept of the chemical’s presence of their air or water.

All of Swager’s crew’s sensors are powered by the identical factor: chemical parts. Platinum and oxygen naturally react with methane, to allow them to be used within the sensors to detect methane in an setting, Swager explains.

Ice-rich permafrost thaws in Alaska. The carbon saved within the previously frozen floor is consumed by microbes, which launch methane gasoline. Picture credit score: USGS

Right here’s how: The platinum within the sensor reacts with oxygen within the ambiance, bonding to create a chemical compound. This compound then reacts with any methane current within the surrounding setting. “Principally, you’re oxidizing the methane,” Swager says. This response between the platinum-oxygen compound and methane units off the sensor, which sends a notification to a specialised machine (for an industrial-use sensor) or a cellphone (for a personal-use sensor).

The sensor’s platinum and electrode sensing part “may be very tiny—and that implies that you may put it into a number of totally different buildings,” says Plata, who’s not concerned in Swager’s work. Not like another equipment that’s weighed down by the cumbersome important expertise inside it, C2Sense’s sensors depend on little or no to work, to allow them to be simply built-in into properties, barns, drilling websites, and different environments the place methane is current.

Fuel sensors that may detect risky natural compounds, together with methane, exist already. However they’re not tailor-made to detect methane alone, Swager mentioned in an electronic mail, and require temperatures increased than 570 F to function. This makes them each pricey and doubtlessly harmful round excessive concentrations of methane, a flammable gasoline.

Conversely, Swager’s sensors can function in ambient situations and have low energy necessities—they’ll run at submicrowatts—making them cheap to function. And in contrast to present sensors in the marketplace, which typically want a battery pack or wiring to work, Swager’s sensors will be powered wirelessly and skim by a smartphone.

A number of the smaller prototype methane sensors are 0.08 inch (2mm) cubes, roughly as thick as a nickel. They will doubtlessly assist pinpoint leaks in properties or wells, attaching bodily to an space the place methane might spew from. The sensors can even connect to a cellphone for on-the-go sensing, reporting the adjustments in air or water high quality proper to a “mobile-friendly sensor platform” on the telephone, Swager explains.

That mentioned, personal-use sensors could also be a methods off, Swager cautions. At the moment, odorants added to methane-containing gasoline function the primary indicator for gasoline leaks in properties. Sadly, scent is barely helpful in case you’re current and in a position to odor it. “Homes can blow up if there’s an excessive amount of pure gasoline,” Swager says. When somebody is away from their residence or is unable to odor a leak, it’s tougher to guard in opposition to a doable gasoline hearth—or worse, explosion.

One other doable software for the sensors, Swager says, is to check properly water, which tens of millions of individuals within the U.S. depend on. When methane is drilled underground, the gasoline generally escapes from the pipe it’s being pumped into, travels by way of the porous earth, and rises from the bottom. “Within the means of drilling down, you’ve got created one other pathway for the methane to succeed in the floor. It may come up 100 yards from the properly pad relying on the placement, even get into the groundwater,” Swager says. As a result of the gasoline is taken into account unhazardous by a number of state departments of public well being, methane doesn’t have a Protected Ingesting Water Act most contaminant degree. (Though the U.S. Division of the Inside suggests a particular methane degree at which householders ought to vent their wells.)

Bigger sensors can sense transient leaks (leaks that begin and cease) over giant swaths of land. Meant to be used by engineers, park rangers, and different professionals, industrial-use sensors may establish methane leaks at pure gasoline drilling websites, the place methane comes up from the earth; forests, the place raging fires can emit the chemical; or giant farms, the place methane-emitting livestock reside.

Cattle farming is the main reason behind methane emissions within the U.S., with almost 2% of complete greenhouse gasoline emissions yearly coming from the methane cows burp and fart (and the U.S. is the world’s largest producer of beef). Scientists have seemed for tactics to decrease methane emissions from cattle farming, going as far as to place masks on cows to catch their burps.

Addressing the elephant within the room

As methane and different greenhouse gases gather within the ambiance, they “work as a blanket,” says Andra Garner, a local weather scientist at Rowan College in New Jersey. “Methane is a a lot thicker and heavier blanket than carbon dioxide and in case you add too many blankets, we begin to get method too heat,” she explains.

Past local weather change and speedy security dangers of methane, the well being results of being uncovered to excessive ranges of methane over a chronic time period are additionally a priority, however haven’t been completely investigated. Communities which have handled giant quantities of methane leaking into their air—just like the residents of Belmont County, Ohio, the place one of many largest methane leaks ever recorded within the U.S. occurred in 2018—have reported respiratory issues and dizziness after being uncovered to methane gasoline. In-home methane sensors may notify residents of leaks when their noses can’t, similar to carbon monoxide and smoke detectors do.

“You most likely hear headlines on a regular basis, ‘All over the place we search for plastics within the setting, we discover them,’” Plata says. “The identical is true of most industrial chemical substances, however the issue is I can’t pull out my cellphone and take an image of [them]. Tim’s sensors are serving to to shut that hole.”

With the ability to see the place methane comes from is step one to controlling its results on our planet. “Any time now we have extra information, that’s higher; we get a greater deal with on the place these emissions are coming from,” Garner says. In any case, Plata says, “Getting chemical substances out of the environmental system is a much bigger problem than making an attempt to maintain them from getting there within the first place.”

New state-of-the-art technology collects a unique time series from methane seeps in the Arctic — ScienceDaily


A brand new publication in Ocean Science hyperlinks cutting-edge expertise with developments in our understanding of the surroundings and local weather, highlighting and constraining uncertainties in present methane estimates from methane seepage websites within the Arctic.

On the forefront of ocean observatory applied sciences is the Ok-Lander — an progressive ocean observatory outfitted with many ocean sensors, designed in collaboration between the water column group at CAGE led by Bénédicte Ferré and Kongsberg Maritime. This observatory was designed to observe methane launch from the seabed to the water column underneath difficult environments, offering invaluable data on temporal and spatial variability of pure methane launch that may doubtlessly attain the environment.

A brand new examine printed in Ocean Science carried out by CAGE PhD candidate Knut Ola Dølven and co-authors presents time-series information from two methane seep websites offshore western Svalbard, within the Arctic. These distinctive outcomes present excessive variability each on hourly and seasonal time-scales and describe the interconnectivity between methane seepage and the ocean.

“The size and site are what makes these time-series distinctive, as they reply previous and lift new questions associated to this variability and the way we will higher constrain it in future emission estimates.” Says Knut Ola Dølven, Dølven, who carried out this examine as a part of his Ph.D. at CAGE.

Areas of intense methane seepage

In 2015 and 2016, two Ok-Lander observatories had been deployed over distinct intensive methane seepage websites west of Prins Karls Forland, the place hundreds of fuel bubble streams originating from the seafloor had been noticed.

Regardless of the data that methane seep websites doubtless expertise excessive temporal and spatial variability, our understanding of the quantity, distribution, and launch of methane within the Arctic Ocean has largely relied on research that had been undertaken within the late spring to early autumn because of higher ice and climate situations. Till now.

Long run, steady monitoring of methane launch

Utilizing information from the Ok-Lander, Dølven and co-authors processed a novel lengthy time-series that spanned 10 months, measuring methane, carbon dioxide and bodily parameters at every website. These measurements offered essential insights into the short-term and differences due to the season of methane emissions and concentrations.

“It was fascinating to watch that, regardless of the very excessive short-term variability in methane launch, the supply of methane emission appeared to be comparatively unchanged all through the 10-month deployment. This has sturdy implications on future interpretations of methane focus in seep areas.” Says Dølven.

There may be additionally elevated potential for methane launch to the environment throughout the fall and winter, if seepage persists, because of the weaker water column stratification (elevated mixing of the layers within the ocean).

Whereas seabed seepage is taken into account a minor pure supply of atmospheric methane, there are giant uncertainties associated to the present and predicted emission estimates. Dølven and co-authors had been, due to this fact, capable of spotlight and constrain uncertainties associated to variability in methane stock estimates from seabed methane seepage.

Ok-Lander expertise in future analysis purposes

This work highlighted the profitable cooperation between maritime trade and analysis groups, offering leading edge expertise for monitoring methane to assist clarify questions on oceanic greenhouse fuel emissions. That is the primary long run information collection offering distinctive multi-sensor information on methane launch and different ocean bodily and chemical situations within the Arctic.

“This infrastructure will play a significant function in understanding components controlling methane emissions not solely in Arctic, as highlighted on this examine, however in different areas worldwide as nicely. Methane seepage information together with different parameters measured by the Ok-Lander will assist in estimating current and future world methane budgets in our oceans” says Bénédicte Ferré, the crew chief for WP4 ‘Gasoline within the Water Column’ and EMAN7, and the liable for the event, acquisition and information evaluation associated to the Ok-Lander.