Nature: Envisat, the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) most sophisticated environmental monitor, has stopped sending data to Earth. Its signal cut out when it passed over a Swedish ground station on 8 April, although it’s still in stable Earth orbit. Launched in 2002, it has doubled its intended life of five years, providing data on ozone, clouds, greenhouse gases, land-use trends, and sea-surface temperatures. Most of its instruments have analogues on other satellites, but ESA had planned to overlap Envisat with the Sentinel satellite series flying under the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program. GMES was scheduled to begin operations 2013–14, but longer-term funding commitments for the program still need to be negotiated. ESA’s mission control is working to reestablish contact with the satellite.
National Geographic: An 8.6-magnitude earthquake and its 8.2-magnitude aftershock occurred off the Indonesian coast on 11 April. A tsunami alert was issued for most of the Indian Ocean, including Aceh Province, Indonesia, where 170 000 people died as a result of the December 2004 tsunami. That tsunami had waves of twenty four meters tall when it came ashore in Aceh and grew to thirty meters in some spots as it traveled further inland. Wednesday’s quake, however, led to a tsunami with waves of slightly less than one meter—high enough to notice, but not to cause any significant damage. The lesser magnitude of the more recent temblor and its different character are the reason for the difference; the more recent quake was a strike-slip event, rather than an upthrust quake. Strike-slip quakes involve tectonic plates sliding past one another horizontally rather than vertically and there was no vertical rise of the seabed to displace a large volume of water.
Nature: This week the world’s oldest scientific society still in existence, Britain’s Royal Society, is throwing parties, staging TV debates, holding public lectures, and otherwise celebrating its 350th birthday. In a news feature, Nature‘s Colin Macilwain examines how the society has changed from the age of Isaac Newton to the age of Stephen Hawking.
Science: In a Q&A with Science‘s Eli Kintisch, Wendell Berry, whose writings address life in rural communities, explains why he has decided to remove his personal papers from the University of Kentucky. As Berry sees it, in striving to become a first-rank research university, the University of Kentucky is neglecting its original mission to teach and serve the people of Kentucky, his home state.
New York Times: Speech recognition software is now capable of handling routine conversations at doctors’ offices and basic interrogations at military checkpoints—even in foreign languages. Steve Lohr and John Markoff of the New York Times survey recent progress toward creating artificial intelligence that can interpret and act on human speech.
Washington Post: Soon after the 20 April explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig, reporters simply repeated BP’s 5000-barrels-a-day estimate of the spill rate. Now, some reporters are examining the bases of that and other estimates, which vary by a factor of five or more.
Science: According to a Stanford University study, 83% of women scientists pair up with members of their own discipline. Neither male scientists nor women who work in other academic fields show such a strong intradisciplinary predilection. Beryl Lieff Benderly explores its implications in her most recent Taken for Granted column.
New Mexico Business Weekly: Sandia Corp, the subsidiary of Lockheed Martin that runs Sandia National Laboratories, has chosen Paul J. Hommert as its new chief. Apart from three-year stints at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment, Hommert has spent his entire career at Sandia, one of three nuclear weapons labs in the US. He ran the lab’s nuclear weapons program before becoming director.
Nature: In another sign of warming relations between Taiwan and China, the Taiwanese government has announced that its universities will admit up to 2000 students a year from the Chinese mainland. The deal is mutually beneficial. Taiwan’s research universities, which were facing a shortage of local students, gain access to a bigger pool of applicants; mainland students gain access to a wider choice of institutions in the Chinese-speaking world.
Miami Herald: In an op-ed piece that appeared in both English and Spanish-language publications, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlined the benefits of cooperation on clean energy in the Western Hemisphere:
We’re already making progress. As part of [Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas], the United States and the Inter-American Development Bank are working with partners across the region to develop a regional clean energy network that will link energy efficiency centers in Peru and Costa Rica with Chile’s Renewable Energy Center in Santiago, Mexico’s Wind Center in Oaxaca, a biomass center in Brazil and a geothermal center in El Salvador. This new network will bring U.S. and regional experts together to explore technologies and implementation strategies that will benefit us all.