From the DNA of ancient diseases frozen in the permafrost to the relationship between global warming and the scramble to access vast oil deposits under the Arctic - in January Horizon looks at science that is taking researchers out onto the ice.
We hear from Dr Marc von Hobe, coordinator of the EU-funded RECONCILE project, which helped with the first ever detection of a hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic. He argues that more work needs to be done to control greenhouse gas emissions.
Horizon also talks to the scientists aiming to set up a European Arctic observing network in Svalbard, an island halfway between the north of Norway and the North Pole.
As temperatures rise in the Arctic, permafrost, or frozen ground, is thawing. As it does, greenhouse gases trapped within it are being released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, leading to previously underestimated problems with ocean acidification and potential mercury poisoning.
Studies of ice melt in the Arctic suggest that the world may have a fighting chance of preventing huge sea level changes that would result from the dramatic collapse of the vast ice sheets that cover Greenland, but that more work is needed to understand the wider effects.
As the northern route opens, the melting ice will have a significant impact on the transportation of goods around the world, and the consequences are manifold, said Didier Schmitt, a scientific adviser at the European Commission.
The Nordic Orion became the first cargo ship to take the treacherous Northwest Passage from the Pacific Ocean to Europe last year, and now its Danish operators are planning more trips across the Arctic as the sea ice melts.
If no new policy measures are adopted to combat global warming, the cost of climate change in Europe could reach almost 4 % of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the European Union by the end of the century.
The big freeze in the US was part of an Arctic weather system that is being displaced more and more frequently because of global warming, European researchers believe. As it re-centres itself over the pole, it should bring colder, icier conditions back to Europe.
In November, Horizon takes a deep dive into the captivating, diverse world of clouds to understand what they mean for climate change. We speak to atmospheric physicist Prof. Pier Siebesma about why clouds are still one of the biggest sources of uncertainty when it comes to climate change and how new field studies are helping to reduce some of the unknowns. We speak to a researcher about flying through tropical clouds to collect particles at high altitudes to paint a full picture of the role of clouds and aerosols in our planet’s climate. And we also delve into research investigating how global warming is changing clouds and why this could bring about extreme weather and rain, and we look at how aerosols – crucial for cloud formation - are changing due to anthropogenic pollution.
In October, Horizon discovers a futuristic world of transparent e-books, plastic solar cells and electronic skin with a look at some of the applications of organic electronics. We speak to organic chemist Prof. Andreas Hirsch about how using carbon rather than silicon in electronics can make them flexible, lightweight and biocompatible and could lead to a new generation of human-looking robots and ‘chemical’ computing. We take a look at work to create electronic skin – self-healing, stretchable material that can mimic some of the functions of human skin – and its potential uses. We discover how thin, flexible, plastic solar cells could turn surfaces such as cars and fabric into sources of renewable energy, and we uncover some novel approaches to charging wearable electronics.
Live vaccines can give health effects beyond just protecting us from a specific disease and may even help us combat other infections such as Covid-19, according to Christine Stabell Benn, a professor in global health at the University of Southern Denmark.
Using light as an energy source, photosynthetic microalgae can be used to produce products like biofuels and cosmetics. But algae grown in a reactor block out the light on which they feed. New reactor designs could solve this problem and help the industry move forward.
Prof. Christine Stabell Benn is studying the wider effects of common vaccines.
Stephan Borrmann’s detective work required help from a high-altitude former spy plane.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.