Earth Watch: The magnetic north pole is rapidly moving because of some blobs of magma

00000000 Magnetic NorthThe magnetic north pole just isn’t where it used to be. Ever since James Clark Ross first identified it on the Boothia Peninsula in Canada’s Nunavut territory in 1831, scientists have been carefully measuring its location ever since. But in recent years, it’s been inching closer and closer to Siberia at a surprisingly rapid pace. Now, researchers from U.K. and Denmark say they’ve uncovered the reason for this mysterious movement: Two writhing lobes of magnetic force are duking it out near Earth’s core.

“The wandering of Earth’s north magnetic pole, the location where the magnetic field points vertically downwards, has long been a topic of scientific fascination,” the researchers write in their paper, which appears in the May 5 issue of Nature Geoscience. Earth’s magnetic field is generated by molten iron in its outer core. The flow of this liquid iron can influence the location of the planet’s magnetic poles. While poles have drifted and even swapped places numerous times over the course of Earth’s long history, what’s different about this recent shift is how quickly it’s happening. From 1999 to 2005, Earth’s magnetic north pole went from shifting 9 miles at most each year to as much as 37 miles in a year.

These scientists pored over 20 years of satellite data from the European Space Administration’s Swarm satellite mission and discovered that “…over the last two decades the position of the north magnetic pole has been largely determined by two large-scale lobes of negative magnetic flux on the core–mantle boundary under Canada and Siberia,” according to the study. Between 1970 and 1999, the flow of molten, magnetic material in Earth’s outer core changed. Because of these changes, the researchers say, the magnetic blob lurking beneath Canada slowly elongated in the early aughts, weakening the corresponding magnetic intensity on Earth’s surface. Eventually, the blob of molten material beneath Canada split in two and the stronger one slowly shifted toward the blob beneath Siberia. This spurred the magnetic north pole to slip closer and closer to Siberia, where the magnetic intensity was stronger.

In 2017, the magnetic north pole fell within 240 miles of the geographic north pole. The movement has been so rapid that the British Geological Survey and U.S. National Geophysical Data Center, which update the World’s Magnetic Model, had to accelerate their process in order to keep up. The scientists generated a series of models of Earth’s core in an effort to understand how it might move in the future. “Our predictions are that the pole will continue to move towards Siberia, but forecasting the future is challenging and we cannot be sure,” the study’s lead author, geophysicist Phil Livermore of the University of Leeds, told Live Science. These shifts have major consequences for global navigation systems. Anything or anyone that uses a compass—from ships at sea to the smart phones in our pockets—is impacted by this magnetic game of tug-o-war.  –Popular Mechanics

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6.5 magnitude earthquake strikes Nevada, shaking felt hundreds of miles away

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An early Friday morning earthquake near Tonopah, Nevada, was strong enough to be felt over 300 miles away in areas such as Bakersfield, California. The 6.5 magnitude quake struck at 4:03 a.m., PDT, according to the U.S. Geological Survey and had a depth of 2.5 miles. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in the small town of Tonopah, located about three hours north of Las Vegas. Tonopah is home to the Tonopah Test Range, home of the U.S. Air Force’s test site of experimental and classified aircraft and famous for its connection with Area 51 enthusiasts.

In Esmeralda, Nevada, aftershocks in the same area were recorded within 15 minutes ranging from 3.8 to a strength of 4.9. This is the third 3.0 magnitude earthquake in the last 10 days for the region, according to the LA Times.

According to contributed reports from the USGS, residents as far east as Salt Lake City, Utah, reported feeling the quake and as far southwest as San Diego, a 750-mile range of reported impacts.  –AccuWeather

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Scientists closely monitor underwater volcano off Hawaii after rare earthquake swarm

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HONOLULU, Hawaii – Volcanologists are keeping a close eye on their instruments after a rare earthquake swarm off the Big Island the past two days. Twenty miles off the southeast coast of the Big Island, Hawaii’s newest volcano rises 10,000 feet from the ocean floor with its summit about 3,000 feet under the surface. When Loihi starts shaking, scientists pay attention. “Think of it as a younger version of Kilauea or Mauna Loa volcanoes,” said David Phillips, deputy scientist in charge at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Phillips said there’s no significant hazard at the moment, but at one point HVO recorded 14 earthquakes per hour on the Loihi Seamount. “The peak did take place yesterday afternoon, whether it continues to subside or come back is hard to say,” Phillips said. On a seismogram, more than a hundred temblors struck in the 2- to 3-magnitude range, suggesting magma is on the move. Phillips said if the shaking continues, it could signal an eruption — and that could cause a summit collapse. That’s happened before, last in 1996. A significant eruption could even cause a small tsunami.

“There would be very little time to respond,” Phillips said. “It would be certainly less than an hour, could be minutes.” But there is no sign of trouble right now. “From everything we’ve seen, there’s nothing like that coming,” Phillips said. The seamount appears to have settled down. Besides the occasional rumble, the most exciting things on Loihi are the creatures that thrive in the hot water nearly a mile deep.  –Hawaii News

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COVID-19 expert: Coronavirus will rage across this planet ‘until it infects everybody it possibly can’

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A high-profile infectious disease researcher warns COVID-19 is in the early stages of attacking the world, which makes it difficult to relax stay-at-home orders without putting most Americans at risk. Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the initial wave of outbreaks in cities such as New York City, where one in five people have been infected, represent a fraction of the illness and death yet to come. “This damn virus is going to keep going until it infects everybody it possibly can,” Osterholm said Monday during a meeting with the USA TODAY Editorial Board. “It surely won’t slow down until it hits 60 to 70%” of the population, the number that would create herd immunity and halt the spread of the virus.

Hollywood got it right. We got it wrong: Gandalf said in The Fellowship of the Ring, “For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” In this interview from 2011, Director of the Emory Global Health Institute Jeffrey Koplan, MD, MPH, thought a global pandemic, like the one in the movie Contagion, was more Hollywood fiction than reality.

Even if new cases begin to fade this summer, it might be an indicator that the new coronavirus is following a seasonal pattern similar to the flu. During the 1918 flu pandemic that sickened one-third of the world’s population, New York City and Chicago were hit hard in the first wave of illness that largely bypassed other cities such as Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis and Philadelphia. The second wave of illness was much more severe nationwide. If COVID-19 retreats only to return in the fall, the number of cases could peak and overwhelm hospitals that must deal with cases of flu and respiratory viruses. Furthermore, Asian nations such as South Korea and Singapore, lauded for strict controls and rapid testing to avoid damage during the first wave, might be vulnerable to a second wave of infections, he said.

 “It’s the big peak that’s really going to do us in,” he said. “As much pain, suffering, death and economic disruption we’ve had, there’s been 5 to 20% of the people infected, … That’s a long ways to get to 60 to 70%.” Still, there are key differences between COVID-19 and the flu. The average incubation period for the new virus is five days, compared with just two days for the flu, according to a Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy report comparing the pandemics. The longer incubation period and a higher transmission rate suggest the COVID-19 virus spreads more easily than the flu. There were nearly 80,000 deaths and more than 1.3 million confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. at noon Monday, according to the Johns Hopkins University data tracker. New York state has been hit the hardest with more than 26,000 deaths, and preliminary antibody testing suggests about 20% of New York City-area residents have been infected. Worldwide, more than 283,000 people have died and 4.1 million have been infected.

Osterholm said only an effective vaccine can slow the virus before a large enough segment of the population becomes infected and develops some level of immunity. Even if a vaccine works, Osterholm said, it’s unknown whether it would be durable enough to confer long-lasting protection from SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. “We all have to confront the fact there’s not a magic bullet, short of a vaccine, that’s going to make this go away,” he said.  “We’re going to be living with it. And we’re not having that discussion at all.”  –USA Today

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Fake CrisisA Florida man who initially believed the coronavirus was a “fake crisis” that was “blown out of proportion” is now hospitalized along with his wife — and is sounding a cautionary note about the deadly bug. “I thought it was maybe the government trying something, and it was kind of like they threw it out there to kinda distract us,” Brian Hitchens told WPTV from his hospital bed. Hitchens said he continued downplaying the pandemic until he began feeling sick and stopped working. A couple of days later, his wife also began feeling unwell, so she went to a hospital and was told to go under quarantine. But when the couple’s conditions worsened, Hitchens wrote, they went to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.

 “They admitted us right away and we both went to ICU. I started feeling better within a few days but my wife got worse to the point where they sedated her and put her on the ventilator,” he said. “I was never put ventilator and started feeling better feeling stronger never had terrible aches and pains just weak and exhausted,” Hitchens said, adding that his wife remains sedated. “After 3 weeks I have come to accept that my wife may pass away… – NY Post

Untrue but uncanny: Other Cases: A woman who attended a party in California and joked she had the coronavirus, found out she was not joking when she caused an outbreak in Pasadena. Health officials said the party was attended by multiple members of an extended family as well as their friends, and that guests weren’t wearing masks or adhering to social distancing guidelines.

The woman who has been identified as the “index case” – the first patient in the outbreak identified with the disease – had been coughing and didn’t wear a mask to the party. She apparently joked with other party goers that she had the coronavirus, which turned out to be accurate. Lisa Derderian, a spokeswoman for the city of Pasadena, told the Los Angeles Times that the woman’s disregard for the city’s stay-at-home order – which has been in effect since March 22, prior to the party – led to others becoming severely ill. “The aftermath affected several others who became seriously ill because of one person’s negligent and selfish behavior,” she said.  –The Independent

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Could antibodies found in llamas help us defeat COVID-19?

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Scientists hope a key to COVID-19 antibody research could currently be grazing peacefully in a Belgian field — in the shape of a four-year-old llama named Winter. The llama, which researchers vaccinated against the coronaviruses that cause MERS and SARS in 2016, “produced antibodies in response to vaccination, which were able to really potently neutralize both of those viruses,” explained Daniel Wrapp, a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. After the pandemic became world news earlier this year, the team tested those antibodies on cells infected with COVID-19 in a laboratory environment — and neutralized the virus, Wrapp explained.

The findings were published last week in the scientific journal Cell, in collaboration with researchers at Ghent University in Belgium. The work began four years ago, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, as research into MERS and SARS, he said. “We’re really excited about potentially exploring this antibody as a therapeutic to help fight off COVID-19,” Wrapp told The Current’s Matt Galloway. Llamas like Winter are well suited to this kind of research because they produce nanobodies — about half the size of the antibodies a human would make — that occur in sharks and camelids (such as llamas, alpacas and camels).  

“That reduced size makes them potentially really interesting therapeutic candidates because they can wedge themselves into little crevices that our larger antibodies wouldn’t otherwise be able to access,” said Wrapp. All llamas are theoretically capable of producing the same nanobodies as Winter, he said, adding that her species make “surprisingly good laboratory animals. They take up a lot of space, but they’re apparently a lot of fun to work with.” –CBC

How would we administer this antibody treatment to a human patient?

It would be administered much like any other conventional antibody treatment, by injection. Really, the nice thing about an antibody treatment as opposed to a vaccine is that you could administer it to people who are already infected, and it would rapidly begin to reduce the disease burden and hopefully reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Can you explain the difference between an antibody treatment and a vaccine?

A vaccine has to be administered probably about two months before exposure to the infectious agent in order to be effective. That’s because you want to present the human immune system with something that looks like a pathogen so that it can raise its own antibodies and fight off infection if it’s ever presented with that pathogen infection scenario. Unfortunately, that’s sort of useless if you’ve already been infected. So, in that case, you have an antibody treatment for somebody who is already infected to help them get better more quickly.

Could the treatment also potentially be used as preventative measures in, for example, key workers?

Yes, I’m glad you brought up essential workers because people like health care workers could be administered this drug and then it would reduce or prevent their susceptibility to infection when treating patients.  –Science Focus

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Recovery from a COVID-19 infection could be long, tortuous road for many

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Coronavirus patients declared recovered who later test positive for the disease are still expelling dead lung cells rather than getting a new infection, the World Health Organization (WHO) told AFP on Wednesday.  South Korean health officials reported more than 100 such cases in April, raising concerns that patients who had recovered could become reinfected.  “We are aware that some patients test positive after they clinically recover,” a WHO spokesperson told AFP, without making specific reference to the South Korean cases. “From what we currently know – and this is based on very recent data – it seems they these patients are expelling left over materials from their lungs, as part of the recovery phase.”

People infected with the new coronavirus build up antibodies starting a week or so after infection or the onset of symptoms, research has shown. But it is still not clear, experts say, whether the body systematically builds up enough immunity to ward off a new attack by the virus or, if it does, how long such immunity lasts. As for the recovered patients who tested negative and then, weeks later, positive, more research is needed, according to the WHO. “We need systematic collection of samples from recovered patients to better understand how long they shed live virus,” the spokesperson said.

“We also need to understand if this means they can pass the virus to other people – having live virus does not necessarily mean it can be passed to another person.” In a recent interview with BBC, infectious disease epidemiologist Maria Van Kerhove, part of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, explained the “dead cell” scenario. “As the lungs heal, there are parts of the lung that are dead cells that are coming up. These are fragments of the lungs that are actually testing positive,” she said. “It is not infectious virus, it’s not reactivation. It is actually part of the healing process.” “Does that mean they have immunity? Does that mean they have a strong protection against reinfection? We don’t know the answer to that yet.” For some viruses, such as the measles, those who contract it are immune for life. For other coronaviruses such as SARS, immunity lasted from a few months to a couple of years. The pandemic has now killed more than 257,000 people globally and officially infected nearly 3.7 million, although with only the most serious cases being tested the number is believed to be far higher.  –Science Alert

Viral shedding after 30 days? Coronavirus has been found in human feces, more than a month after the patient tested negative for COVID-19. Scientists from the University of Stirling have warned that the findings indicate that coronavirus could spread via sewage. Professor Richard Quilliam, who led the study, said: “We know that COVID-19 is spread through droplets from coughs and sneezes, or via objects or materials that carry infection. “However, it has recently been confirmed that the virus can also be found in human feces – up to 33 days after the patient has tested negative for the respiratory symptoms of COVID-19. “It is not yet known whether the virus can be transmitted via the fecal-oral route, however, we know that viral shedding from the digestive system can last longer than shedding from the respiratory tract.  –Mirror

Sexual transmissibility? Coronavirus was found in semen of recovering and acute male COVID-19 patients in a small study conducted in January and February in China, though it remains unknown, according to the CDC, whether the disease can be transmitted sexually. In the study, originally published on JAMA Network Open and conducted in Shangqiu, China, six patients—15.8%—of 38 COVID-19-positive males had the virus in their semen. “We are learning about this virus on a daily basis…People should be practicing abstinence or safe sex after being sick,” Dr. Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology who focuses on infectious disease spread at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine, advised in a CNN interview on the subject.  –Forbes

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