Findings — From the August 2019 issue

Findings

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Birth Cursed Reversed, a painting by Amir H. Fallah. Courtesy the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

Birth Cursed Reversed, a painting by Amir H. Fallah. Courtesy the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg biochemists climate-change–proofed the potato. Environmental pressure was expected to shrink mammals by an average of 25 percent in the next century, and a further reason aging populations will contribute to global warming, beyond living longer, is that the old use more air conditioning. Tens of thousands of tons of banned CFC emissions were traced to eastern China, and although scientists were unable to explain the atmosphere’s recent methane surge, U.S. fertilizer plants alone were revealed to be emitting three times the current EPA estimate of methane for all U.S. industry. Lower air-pollution levels are expected to make heat waves 25 percent hotter and 41 percent longer by 2100. Air pollution from the agricultural fires of the Roman Empire cooled Europe, and strategic Native American forest burning was far more responsible for prehistoric alterations in vegetation cover in the eastern United States than were climate shifts. Warming is causing forests to grow faster, but also to store less carbon as trees die younger, and is causing growth spurts among mature Dahurian larches on northeastern China’s permafrost plains. A survey of striped maples in New Jersey found that more than half the trees changed sex in a four-year period and that a given tree was likelier to die if it had lived the previous year as a female.

Climate change will require koalas to supplement their water intake from eucalyptus with drinking stations and was encouraging sockeye salmon to leave their natal lakes a year early. Marine ecosystems were being devastated by artisanal fish fences, and European eels, in consuming their own skeletons while returning to the Sargasso Sea to breed, were poisoning their ovaries with the heavy metals their bones absorbed when they were young. A conservative estimate indicated that each American annually consumes between 74,000 and 121,000 particles of microplastic, wild Argentine bees were found to be building nests entirely out of plastic, and the third human expedition to the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench found a plastic bag. The potential to store CO2 under the seafloor has been compromised in many places by leaks from earlier oil and gas drilling. The shrinking of the moon is causing moonquakes.

A cryptic species of blotched rat snake was named for the vanished kingdom of Urartu. The grip strength of anole lizards on Dominica increased tenfold following Hurricane Maria. The highveld mole rat is immune to the pungency of mustard, radishes, and wasabi. Young tiger sharks who had their stomachs pumped were found to prefer terrestrial songbirds to seabirds. The alarm call vervet monkeys use to warn of martial eagles is nearly identical to the call green monkeys use to warn of drones. Human activity is destroying the cultural diversity of chimpanzees. Gabonese chimpanzees were observed cracking tortoises open against tree trunks and preparing them on the half shell, and Tanzanian chimpanzees intimidated a leopard into surrendering its blue duiker. Bonobo mothers act as lookouts while their sons have sex. Cold mothers cause premature aging in their offspring. Children find technology to be “creepy” when it mimics other entities, when it inexplicably knows about them or laughs, and when it manifests visually as an ominous black spirit; one child reported concern when he asked his digital voice assistant whether it would kill him in his sleep and was told, “I can’t answer that.” An A.I.—the training of which can produce more than 300 tons of CO2—can now detect when students’ written work is not their own, can combat deepfakes by means of an authentication chain, and can detect fake news with exceptional accuracy if it is first trained to create it. Scientists who revived the brains of decapitated pigs kept anesthetics and anti-­epileptic drugs on hand for fear the brains might regain consciousness. Japanese cats know their own names, and Schrödinger’s Cat can be saved.

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