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Wildfires as those currently raging in Portugal emit more harmful soot than thought

Wildfires as those currently raging in Portugal emit more harmful soot than thought. Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Wildfire pollution grossly underestimated

US survey records unprecedented levels of soot.

Wildfires pollute the air more than previously thought — especially when it comes to tiny particles that can lodge in the lungs and cause health problems.

Greg Huey at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and his colleagues analysed data gathered by research aeroplanes from the smoke plumes of three major wildfires in the western United States in 2013. The burns emitted more than three times the amount of fine particulate matter, or soot, accounted for in the US National Emissions Inventory.

Earlier estimates of the amount of particulate matter produced by such fires came from controlled burns, but it seems wildfires release much more pollution into the air. The team also measured a range of chemicals coming from the wildfires, including some nitrate compounds spotted for the first time in plumes from burning biomass. Setting controlled burns that improve forest health and reduce the risk of devastating wildfires may be one way to prevent future air-quality problems, the authors say.

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Metabolism

A century of US data documents obesity’s racially skewed rise

An analysis also finds that obesity is common at a much younger age among people born in the early 1980s than those born in the late 1950s.
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Astronomy and astrophysics

Wiggly signal hints of an aurora on a planet far from the Solar System

A vast radio observatory on Earth detects signals similar to those generated by the aurora on Jupiter.
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Atmospheric science

Ice on the Alps’s highest peak details a pollutant’s rise

A glacier on Mont Blanc provides a decades-long record of the use of bromine, which corrodes the ozone layer.
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Neuroscience

Ants shrink their brains for motherhood — but can enlarge them when egg-laying ends

Brain volume plummets in ‘gamergate’ ants that gain the ability to reproduce, but rises again with a fall in fertility.
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Genomics

An unprecedented genomic analysis helped to curb an Ebola outbreak

Despite extraordinary challenges, scientists managed to sequence a high percentage of Ebola virus genomes from a deadly wave of infections.
Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

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Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
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Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
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