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Three workers in protective suits clean up large amounts of oil washing ashore on the coastline of Peru.

Clean-up teams have been removing oil along the 41 kilometres of Peru’s coast hit by the 15 January spill.Credit: Musuk Nolte

Scientists grapple with oil spill in Peru

On 15 January, a tanker operated by the Spanish oil company Repsol spilt thousands of barrels of crude oil into the ocean near Lima. Researchers are dismayed by the destruction to coastal ecosystems, which are crucial to livelihoods in Peru, a country reliant on fishing. Some are looking for opportunities to document and learn from the unprecedented spill, which they hope might one day spur the country to end its dependence on oil. “Tragedies are never good,” says wetland researcher Héctor Aponte. “But sometimes they bring about change.”

Nature | 6 min read

Ukrainian scientists fear for the future

As Ukraine braces for the possibility of an imminent invasion by Russia, several Ukrainian scientists have told Nature that they and their colleagues are taking measures to protect themselves and their work, including gathering items for self-defence and preparing to flee. The escalating tensions come eight years after a revolution that pushed Ukraine to cut ties with Russia — including those related to research — and forge closer links with the European Union. Researchers fear that fresh conflict will plunge Ukraine into turmoil and halt the progress that it has since made in science. “At the moment, I am sitting in a warm place and the Internet is available. I don’t know if that will be the case tomorrow,” says mathematician Irina Yegorchenko.

Nature | 5 min read

Wild polio eradication at risk in Africa

A three-year-old girl in Malawi has been paralysed by wild poliovirus — the first case of wild polio in Africa in more than five years. Genetic sequencing has linked the strain to a version that circulated in 2019 in Pakistan, one of only two countries — the other being Afghanistan — where the wild virus is still infecting people. Africa is currently experiencing large outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio, which can emerge in areas where many children have not been vaccinated. But the last known case of wild polio in Africa occurred in 2016 in Nigeria, and the continent was certified as free of wild poliovirus in August 2020. Health officials hope to end the outbreak quickly.

Science | 4 min read

Features & opinion

Image obtained with the ESO Schmidt Telescope of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Supernova 1987A.

Supernova 1987A appears as a bright spot near the centre of this image of the Tarantula nebula, taken by the ESO Schmidt Telescope.Credit: ESO

Bracing for the next supernova

A supernova in the Milky Way could ignite at any time — and astronomers will be ready to watch it happen. An early warning system that uses neutrino observatories, such as Super-Kamiokande in Japan, will recognize the first particles that flood out from a supernova. This will trigger robotic telescopes to swivel in the direction of the dying star to catch its first light, which comes after the neutrino storm. Amateur stargazers might also have an important part to play in making observations: the brightest events, which would shine brighter than a full Moon and be visible during the day, would overwhelm the sensors of big telescopes (and most large observatories have decommissioned their smaller visible-light telescopes).

Nature | 14 min read

How eugenicists tried to hijack the north

Indigenous peoples of the Arctic — including the Sámi of Finland, Norway and Sweden, the Chukchi and Nenets of Russia and the Inuit of Alaska, Canada and Greenland — have lived in the north for thousands of years. For others, especially racist eugenicists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the north symbolized Utopia, the incubator of a ‘master race’. German historian of culture and science Bernd Brunner, in his book Extreme North, untangles the origin of these pseudoscientific ideas, from the veneration of the Vikings and Old Norse sagas to the doctrine of ‘Nordic’ superiority promoted by Nazi ideologues.

Nature | 5 min read

IKEA and the fate of a European forest

Accidents of geography and history have left Romania with one of the largest old-growth forests remaining in the world. Since around the time the country joined the European Union, however, between one-half and two-thirds of its virgin forest has been logged — most of it illegally. Along with the environmental loss has come violence: forest rangers have been murdered and conservationists working in the area are putting their lives at risk. One multinational company that denies any connection to poor forestry practices is the furniture behemoth IKEA. It is the world’s largest wood buyer and Romania’s largest private landowner (with much of the land purchased from the Harvard University endowment). A New Republic investigation shows how the complexities of land ownership, subcontracted manufacturing and weak oversight make the destruction of Romania’s forests so difficult to stop.

The New Republic | 28 min read

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“For the amount of work you have to put in to sextuple your income, you could instead just write in a gratitude journal, you could sleep an extra hour.”

Money can buy you happiness, but not enough to make it worthwhile (if you’re already well-off), says cognitive scientist Laurie Santos, who teaches Yale University’s spectacularly popular ‘science of happiness’ class. (The New York Times | 12 min read — the class is also available for free to the rest of us)