Marc Chartrand remembers falling through the ice.
It was Halloween night in 2019. It was cold, but not too cold, and snow had not yet fallen, making it an ideal night for a skate on Fish Lake, roughly 13 kilometres southwest of Whitehorse. He enjoyed skating near the shore, where the ice was thickest, yet still clear enough to see fish swimming among the rocks below.
But this particular day, Chartrand decided to venture further out. Armed with a wooden hockey stick and a puck, he headed further away from shore, the sound of his skates cutting across the ice echoing across the lake.
And then, suddenly, he watched with dread as the black puck disappeared. Skating at full speed and unable to stop, the ice cracked beneath him. In a split second, he was submerged in the frigid water.
“When I fell through, I couldn’t really see anymore,” Chartrand recalled. “It was really like just a dark black hole under me.”
After a friend tried unsuccessfully to pull Chartrand out with her stick, he was left to try to get out on his own. He tried to pull himself up, but the ice just cracked. He could feel his strength running out. With one last try, he hauled himself out of the icy water.
While Chartrand blames himself for what happened — “waiting a couple extra days would not have hurt” — stories like these are becoming more common as Canadian winters become warmer.
Recent studies have shown that globally, lakes are warming due to climate change and new research has found it’s something that can have dire consequences.
A study published on Wednesday in the journal PLOS One found that more children and youth are dying as a result of unstable lake ice, mainly at the beginning and end of winter.
WATCH | Researcher discusses findings the risk of drowning during warmer winters:
The team of authors looked at 4,000 drownings across 10 countries including Canada, Russia, Germany, Russia, Sweden and 14 states in the United States. The research included 30 years of data across every Canadian province and territory.
Most of the drownings occurred when the temperature was between –5 C and 0 C. Other factors that came into play as well, including thaw-freeze events, rain and wind.
Children on the ice
The researchers used Minnesota as a case study; the state collects data on the age and source of drownings.
They found that children under nine years old accounted for 44 per cent of the winter drownings that didn’t involve a vehicle. Youth from 15 to 39 years old were also “vulnerable” as they spent more time on the ice fishing, for example, and tended to engage in riskier activities.
The findings concern lead author Sapna Sharma, a professor at York University’s department of biology, who has been studying lakes her entire career.
“I started going through this data and I was just like, ‘I can’t do this,'” said Sharma, who is the mother of a five-year-old. “It’s devastating because the kids are four, five, six years old.”
In the case of people who died while using vehicles, such as snowmobiles, most of the deaths were in those younger than 24 years old.
And while the research did not include a case study in Canada, Sharma said the data showed similar patterns.
“The climate is changing, and winters are warming,” she said. “And as individuals, it’s really hard to put that into your everyday decision-making. Being in Canada you think, ‘Oh, I’m going to the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, and everybody goes skating on the Rideau Canal.'”
But while the canal might have been frozen by this time last year, or the years before that, one can’t assume it’s always the case.
And Sharma is particularly concerned about what this winter might bring with the pandemic.
“I think this is really important especially this year with COVID and more people spending time outside,” she said. “It might be the first year that they’re going out, like exploring nature, because there’s nothing else to do.”
Deaths in the North
For some countries included in the research, he number of winter drownings through lake ice were 15 to 50 per cent of their annual drownings. Canada had the highest with a median of 70 — particularly in the territories, where people use frozen lakes as a means of their livelihood, be it for hunting, fishing or as a means of transportation.
And it’s the North that is seeing the most rapid warming.
According to Canada’s Changing Climate Report, released in 2019, the average annual temperature has warmed by roughly 1.7 C above the average from 1948. In the North, that anomaly is 2.3 C, with the greatest warming occurring in the winter.
The study highlights the importance of incorporating local knowledge into better understanding ice conditions and specifically mentions the experience of Cree hunters who monitor air temperatures and precipitation to evaluate inland ice conditions.
“Indigenous communities … have a lot of experience using ice, so I think it’s crucial to incorporate traditional knowledge, and the Indigenous communities into the safety frameworks,” Sharma said. “We need that knowledge.”
There could also be more agencies devoted to monitoring the ice and issuing outlooks or advisories as to ice conditions, something that Germany and Italy use, which helped reduce their winter ice drownings in the early and late winter months, according to the study.
Chartrand shares his experience mainly as a warning to others that the lake hadn’t yet frozen yet. That day, he remembers seeing more than a dozen people on the ice, albeit closer to shore, including a mother pulling a child on a toboggan. He still believes skating or spending any time on the lake is something everyone should do, but just under the right conditions.
“I would encourage everybody to go,” he said. “But just maybe stay closer to the shore, or maybe do a do a test before.”
But most importantly, Sharma said, be aware of the weather in the days before. Climate change is causing more swings back and forth in temperatures, something that climatologists have nicknamed “winter weirding,” which can weaken ice.
Sharma has a warning for those who may forget it was 10 C just a few days before they plan to skate: “The ice doesn’t forget.”
China prepares mission to bring samples from the Moon – Prensa Latina
This new mission is considered one of the most complicated and challenging for China, since its objective is to bring samples to Earth back from the Moon.
The current probe is the successor of the Chang’e-4, the world’s first probe traversing the dark side of the Moon.
If it performs as expected, another mission to the lunar North Pole will follow to determine the age of the soil, the composition of the solar wind, the isotopes of hydrogen, carbon, helium and oxygen.
Meanwhile, the Chang’e-7 will seek to discover if there is ice in the hidden side of the moon and the eighth will later focus on scientific experiments and will test key technologies to lay the foundations for the construction of a science and research base that involves humans and robots in the 2030s.
China has also launched since the summer a team to Mars in order to study the planet’s atmosphere, environment and geological characteristics.
Thailand: Rare whale skeleton discovered – Report Door
An almost perfectly preserved whale skeleton thought to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old has been discovered in Thailand.
The bones were found in early November some 12km (7.5 miles) off the coast just to the west of Bangkok.
The 12m (39ft) long skeleton is thought to be that of a Bryde’s whale.
Experts hope the find might provide “a window into the past,” especially for research on sea levels and biodiversity.
The partially fossilised bones are “a rare find,” mammal researcher Marcus Chua of the National University of Singapore told the BBC.
“There are few whale subfossils in Asia,” he said, and even fewer ones are “in such good condition”.
Pictures shared by Thailand’s environment minister Varawut Silpa-archa show the bones apparently almost entirely intact.
According to the politician, more than 80% of the skeleton has so far been recovered, including vertebrae, ribs, fins and one shoulder blade.
The skeleton’s head alone is estimated to be about 3m in length.
Mr Chua says the discovery will allow researchers to find out more about the particular species in the past, whether there were any differences compared to today’s Bryde’s whales.
The skeleton will also provide information about the “paleobiological and geological conditions at that time, including sea level estimation, types of sediments, and the contemporary biological communities at that time”.
“So this find provides a window into the past once the skeleton has been dated,” Mr Chua says.
The bones are yet to be carbon-dated to determine their exact age, with the results expected in December.
The gulf of Thailand has an interesting history in the last 10,000 years, the biologist points out, with sea levels possibly up to 4m higher than today and active tectonic activity.
The skeleton was found off the current coastline in Samut Sakhon.
Bryde’s whales, which live worldwide in warm temperate and tropical waters, are still found in the waters around Thailand today.
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European Space Agency inks deal to deploy massive space pincers to clean up orbit – ZDNet
The European Space Agency (ESA) has inked a deal with ClearSpace SA to clean up orbit with craft equipped with pincers designed to grab space junk.
As space agencies and private companies go beyond research and start exploring the potential of commercial space and tourism, the space ‘junk’ we are accumulating will only grow.
This is a severe issue, considering the smallest satellite or piece of defunct technology zooming around at thousands of meters per second, if it collides with craft or other objects, can cause massive damage that also sends additional debris into space.
To tackle the problem, the ESA has signed an €86 million contract with startup ClearSpace to fund and launch debris-removal missions.
Due to launch in 2025, the first active debris removal mission, dubbed ClearSpace-1, will propel a craft into space equipped with pincers able to capture satellites. In this test, the ESA says that ClearSpace craft will “rendezvous, capture and bring down for reentry a Vespa payload adapter.”
The adapter, a leftover from a 2013 mission, has a mass of 112kg and is roughly the size of a small satellite.
“Cleaning space is no longer optional,” ClearSpace says in its mission statement. “Removing human-made space debris has become necessary and is our responsibility to ensure that tomorrow’s generations can continue benefiting from space infrastructures and exploration.”
ClearSpace was selected out of 12 candidates in 2019 by the ESA to develop a commercial debris removal solution for space.
The ESA is only partially funding the mission and the agency intends to raise the rest of the mission cost from commercial investors interested in the technology.
According to the ESA’s latest Space Environment report, there are over 25,000 objects in space — including satellites and various hunks of debris — and rocket bodies, upper stages leftover from launches, and malfunctioning satellites that can’t be deorbited are forms of space junk causing the most concern.
The majority of objects on the list were launched before 2000 and modern space junk mitigation guidelines were adopted by space agencies.
In October, IBM revealed a separate project designed to tackle the emerging problem of space junk. A new open source venture between the tech giant and Dr. Moriba Jah at the University of Texas at Austin is focused on predicting where space objects are in orbit, and where they are likely to go.
By accurately predicting future orbit positions through the creation of machine learning (ML)-based algorithms, this could help companies such as ClearSpace track junk and clean up orbit more effectively.
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