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Daily briefing: Retreating glacier reveals uncharted island in Antarctica

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A thin strip of rocks in the sea, covered with a large ice cap.

Researchers first spotted this rocky outcrop in Pine Island Bay, West Antarctica, in early February.Credit: Gui Bortolotto

Retreating glacier reveals uncharted island

A scientific expedition has discovered an uncharted island off the coast of Antarctica. The island is big enough to be visible by satellite but is covered in the remnants of the retreating ice sheet, making it hard to spot from space. As glaciers have retreated in West Antarctica, they have released pressure on Earth’s crust, allowing it to rebound and rise. Data from the new island could help researchers determine how fast the continent is lifting.

Nature | 3 min read

Outcry over plan for Hungarian museum

The push to decentralize Hungary’s cultural treasures has reached its 200-year-old natural-history museum. The government wants to move the museum’s rich collection from Budapest to the small town of Debrecen in the country’s east. Scientists have been campaigning against the move, citing the potential negative effects on research and the loss of experienced staff, most of whom have said they would not relocate.

Nature | 4 min read

Power wanes for UK science minister

The United Kingdom has another new science minister — a position that has seen a revolving door of appointments, firings and resignations in recent years. Non-scientist Amanda Solloway sits lower in the government hierarchy than previous science ministers and seems to have been handed a less-powerful version of the role. Some see the change as a sign that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his influential adviser Dominic Cummings would prefer to guide science policy from the top.

Nature | 5 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk past stores in the Jongno district of Seoul, South Korea.

Coronavirus cases have jumped in South Korea over the past few days.Credit: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg/Getty

Pondering the pandemic tipping point

• Researchers are considering whether we have lost the battle to prevent COVID-19 from becoming a pandemic, in which the new coronavirus infects people all over the world. Sizeable outbreaks in South Korea and Italy are prompting strong responses from health officials in a last-ditch attempt to contain the disease. (Vox | 11 min read)

• The World Health Organization (WHO) says that, despite the spread of the disease, the coronavirus outbreak does not yet amount to a pandemic. “Using the word pandemic now does not fit the facts, but it may cause fear,” says WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (Nature | Continuously updated)

• More than 600 of you answered a Nature reader poll on how the coronavirus had affected scientists and research. “In my city, we are on lockdown inside our homes, and my productivity has hit rock bottom,” wrote an anonymous PhD student in China. (Nature | 6 min read)

Notable quotable

“Suggesting things people can do to prepare for a possible hard time to come doesn’t just get them better prepared logistically. It also helps get them better prepared emotionally.”

Risk-communication advisers Jody Lanard and Peter Sandman say governments and health-care institutions should start telling the public to get ready for a COVID-19 pandemic. (Virology Down Under blog)

Features & opinion

A virtuoso of approximation

One of the world’s most cited and productive mathematicians, Louis Nirenberg, died on 26 January, aged 94. Nirenberg transformed the field of partial differential equations, and was known as a poser of problems that stretched the limits of research in mathematics and beyond.

Nature | 4 min read

Let trees sprout from your scientific career

Gabriel Waksman set up a native-tree-planting programme to offset the carbon emissions of travel associated with his career as a biologist. Academics, scientists and even people attending the same conference can contribute to themed groves in the highlands of Scotland. And, unlike with far-flung carbon-offset schemes, UK-based donors can choose to plant the trees and verify the benefits themselves.

Nature | 4 min read

So you want to be a principal investigator

From bouncing back from failure to knowing when to quit, immunologist John Tregoning and computational biologist Jason McDermott outline ten tips for overcoming “the biggest choke point in an academic career … moving from doing someone else’s research to getting other people to do yours”. With cartoons!

PLOS Computational Biology | 18 min read

Research highlights: 1-minute reads

The secret language of mice

For the first time, scientists have deciphered the ultrasonic squeaks that mice make but we can’t hear. Researchers used machine-learning software called DeepSqueak to tackle the tricky task of linking the sounds with specific behaviours.

First Black Death mass grave found in rural England

Archaeologists digging in the English countryside have discovered the first rural Black Death mass grave ever found in the country. Christian burial rites were highly prized in medieval England, so the presence of a mass grave suggests a community overwhelmed by the dead.

How gut bacteria make broccoli a superfood

Researchers have revealed how a common gut microbe helps the body to take advantage of the anti-cancer powers of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other vegetables in the Brassica genus. A set of genes in the bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron transforms the chemical that gives brassicas their distinctive flavour into compounds called isothiocyanates, which have protective effects against certain cancers.

Ancient methane might not pose a major climate risk

Runaway global warming driven by the release of methane from the Arctic seems less likely than some scientists have feared. Researchers analysed Antarctic ice cores to determine the origins of methane released during a warming period that ended the last ice age. The results suggest that methane emissions during that big thaw were dominated by gas coming from wetlands.

Get more of Nature’s research highlights: short picks from the scientific literature.

Quote of the day

“Everything was so new — the whole idea of going into space was new and daring. There were no textbooks, so we had to write them. We wrote the first textbook by hand.”

Pioneering mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the black, female ‘Hidden Figures’ who contributed to NASA’s human space-flight programme, has died aged 101. (Obituary: The Washington Post. Quote from Black Women Scientists in the United States)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-00542-2

Do you fancy all of the fun of a chemistry conference with none of the travel? Try the #RSCposter twitter conference — 24 hours of online-only science shenanigans starting on 3 March.

This newsletter is always evolving — tell us what you think! Please send your feedback to briefing@nature.com.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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