Albatross expert Dr Henri Weimerskirch, of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), turned his favourite seabirds into spies two years ago by fixing them up with loggers that could detect the radar of illegal fishing vessels. The information from this project, known as OCEAN SENTINEL, has helped governments select which parts of the ocean to patrol. But Dr Weimerskirch wanted to recruit another, possibly better, species to stealth operations. In late 2020, he returned to the remote Kerguelen Islands, in the southern Indian Ocean, to see if they would cooperate. He told Horizon about his expedition.
Four storeys high and made almost entirely of wood, the ZEB Lab building in Trondheim, Norway, had, even before it existed, sucked as much carbon from the atmosphere as it would probably produce in construction. Now, thanks to its arboreal origins, as well as to the sleek expanse of solar panels on its roof and to other energy efficiency measures, it is a carbon-negative building. In other words, from birth to demise, it will have drawn down more carbon than it emitted.
There are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide and about 50 eruptions occur each year. But it’s still difficult to predict when and how these eruptions will happen or how they’ll unfold. Now, new insight into the physical processes inside volcanoes are giving scientists a better understanding of their behaviour, which could help protect the 1 billion people who live close to volcanoes.
In the summer of 2014 a strange building began to take shape just outside MoMA PS1, a contemporary art centre in New York City. It looked like someone had started building an igloo and then got carried away, so that the ice-white bricks rose into huge towers. It was a captivating sight, but the truly impressive thing about this building was not so much its looks but the fact that it had been grown.
Concrete has become our building material of choice for countless structures such as bridges, towers and dams. But it also has a huge environmental footprint mostly due to carbon dioxide emissions from the production of cement – one of its main constituents. Researchers are now experimenting with root vegetables and recycled plastic in concrete to see whether this can make it stronger – and more sustainable – and even power streetlights or air pollution sensors.
Retrofitting Europe’s buildings for energy efficiency is not enough to slash the carbon footprint of the construction sector and cut emissions in time to meet the Paris climate agreement goals, according to Dr Catherine De Wolf, assistant professor of design and construction management at TU Delft in the Netherlands.
There was one science story that dominated 2020 and coronavirus is likely to remain a dominant theme in 2021. But from vaccine rollout to lessons for future pandemics and – that other big challenge that we’re facing – climate change, how will the year in science play out? We asked a selection of our interviewees about lessons from 2020 and what needs to happen in their fields in the coming year.
From corals bunkering down in deeper waters to wait out climate change stress, to how vaccines can boost our immune system beyond a specific disease – here are the 20 most surprising scientific facts that we discovered this year.
Particles swirling around our atmosphere add to climate change, yet much about how they interact with sunlight and influence the seeding of clouds remains puzzling. Studies are lifting the lid on how these tiny particles influence something as big as climate by analysing them from jet aircraft, satellites and ground measurements.
To protect populations and predict future migration, models mustn’t ignore human behaviour.
Part of the challenge is programming the actions of molecular machines and reducing the waste from chemical triggers that get them to work.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.