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A Whale Chorus Reveals How Climate Change May Be Shifting Migration

Eerie wails, explosive trumpets and ghostly moans. The sounds from the underwater recorders had a story to tell, even without a single intelligible word: the whales had stayed put. The recordings gathered during the 2018-2019 winter in the freezing cold Arctic waters off Canada proved that a population of bowhead whales had skipped their usual migration south. Scientists believe this behavior — never previously detected — could be driven by the effects of climate change and be a potential harbinger of shifting dynamics across the region’s ecosystem.   Ordinarily, the approximately 20,000 bowheads that make up the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort (BCB) population around Canada have a fairly predictable migration pattern spanning 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles). They spend the winter in part of the Bering Sea, which lies between Russia and Alaska, and head north then east to the Beaufort Sea and Canada’s Amundsen Gulf in the summer, before returning in the autumn.   But in winter 2018-2019, something different happened. Residents in the Canadian region reported seeing bowheads long after they would normally have disappeared south. A team of scientists decided to comb through hours of audio recorded by underwater devices that are dotted around the region for regular data collection, listening for unusual sounds.   They found them: the distinctive calls of bowhead whales that should have been in their southern winter grounds but had stayed put.   Assisted by a trained computer program, they even found recordings of bowheads singing, a behavior believed to be associated with mating, which has never been recorded in the summer grounds before. The whale noises appeared in between 0.5 to 3.0 percent of recording files collected between October to April at four summer spots. The finding was highly unusual: recordings from some of the same and separate sites in the summer grounds in previous years picked up no whale sounds after October or December, depending on the location.   “The evidence is clear that BCB bowheads overwintered in their summer foraging region in the eastern Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf during the 2018-2019 winter and as far as we know, this is the first time it has been reported,” says the study published Wednesday in the Royal Society Open Science journal. ‘Ecosystem shift under way’ Less clear however is why this happened, with the authors positing various theories mostly linked to climate change. One possible factor could be shifting ice cover, with less ice than usual seen in the summer grounds during the 2018-2019 winter season.   But the record minimum ice concentration actually came in 2015-2016. That suggests “ice, and particularly timing and locations, is important but not the only factor,” said Stephen Insley of the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, who helped lead the study. Another possible explanation is “predator avoidance,” with the bowheads steering clear of orca whales that are more frequently seen in some areas as warming seas lead to decreased ice cover. Other phenomena linked to climate change could also be at play, like the increasingly erratic and early summer plankton bloom — whales could be spending winter in their summer grounds to ensure they catch the key food source, the scientists suggest. Insley suspects water temperature is playing a key role in the unusual behavior, with bowheads known to avoid water outside a narrow range of around -0.5 to 2 degrees centigrade.  If the bowheads are responding to the effects of climate change, they would be far from alone, Insley told AFP.  “The whole region is undergoing dramatic change and we’re just seeing the beginning of it. Many sub-Arctic species are moving north,” he said. “It’s a complete ecosystem shift under way and there will be winners and losers.”   The team is continuing to record in the region and hopes to correlate its data with information about ocean temperatures to determine any link.   “If the avoidance of warm ocean temperatures were the primary driver of this anomalous behavior, it may be a significant warning sign for bowhead whales,” the study cautions. 

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Chinese President Xi Jinping to Appear at US-Led Global Climate Summit 

Chinese President Xi Jinping will speak Thursday at the global summit on climate change organized by U.S. President Joe Biden. Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a written statement Wednesday that President Xi will deliver an “important speech” during the virtual conference.  Xi is among 40 world leaders invited by President Biden to attend the two-day virtual summit, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Russian President Vladimir Putin.  His acceptance comes days after John Kerry, Biden’s special envoy on climate change, held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, in Shanghai.  Xi’s appearance is his first with Biden since the latter took office in January, and comes amid increasing tensions between the two economic superpowers over a host of issues, including Beijing’s tightening control on semi-autonomous Hong Kong and its brutal treatment of ethnic Uyghur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang province.   But the two countries have apparently found common ground on reducing climate change, as they are the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses, which is directly linked to climate change. The global climate summit is part of Biden’s efforts to restore U.S. leadership after his predecessor Donald Trump’s dismissive attitude towards the issue, including withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement that set a cap on global carbon emissions. Biden rejoined the agreement immediately after taking office.   

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Biden Pushes Plan to Boost Electric Bus Production

This week the Biden administration is promoting a plan to boost electric bus production, proposing $45 billion spending to reduce American-made bus emissions to zero by 2030. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

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US Trying to Insulate Electrical Grid From Cyberattacks  

With America’s electrical infrastructure getting zapped daily by an unprecedented number of cyberattacks, the federal government is taking action to prevent a potentially crippling hack of the grid.  A 100-day plan was announced Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Department to harden security systems for the country’s electrical infrastructure and increase the ability to detect and neutralize cyber threats.  “The United States faces a well-documented and increasing cyber threat from malicious actors seeking to disrupt the electricity Americans rely on to power our homes and businesses,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “It’s up to both government and industry to prevent possible harms — that’s why we’re working together to take these decisive measures so Americans can rely on a resilient, secure, and clean energy system.”  The electric industry was among those hit by recent cyberattacks and data breaches targeting Solar Winds and Microsoft Exchange software, but officials stress the timing of Tuesday’s announcement is not directly tied to those events.In this Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, photo a Microsoft computer is among items displayed at a Microsoft store in suburban Boston. Microsoft reports financial results on Jan. 29, 2020.The U.S. government has blamed Russia’s spy agency for the Solar Winds attack. Microsoft said vulnerabilities in its mail and calendar software for corporate and government data centers were primarily exploited by the so-called Hafnium group in China.  The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a non-profit regulatory authority that oversees utilities in the United States and Canada, said about 25 percent of electric utilities on the North American power grid downloaded the SolarWinds backdoor. “Given the sophisticated and constantly changing threats posed by adversaries, America’s electric companies remain focused on securing the industrial control systems that operate the North American energy grid,” said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies.  Kuhn said the new initiative is appreciated and indicates “the Biden administration is making cybersecurity for operations a high priority.” Tuesday’s announcement comes after some industry criticism that funding for grid security was not included in the recent infrastructure package announced by President Joe Biden. The 100-day plan includes “aggressive but achievable milestones and will assist owners and operators as they modernize cybersecurity defenses, including enhancing detection, mitigation, and forensic capabilities,” said National Security Council Spokesperson Emily Horne in a statement.  Among the fears—that an enemy of the United States or a cybercriminal group could replicate what happened in Ukraine in 2015 when the information systems of the country’s three energy distribution companies were remotely accessed by Russia, causing 200,000 consumers to lose power. A year later in Ukraine, a power transmission station was knocked offline by Russian hackers who were able to trip circuit breakers after planting malware in the network of the national grid operator.  “The safety and security of the American people depend on the resilience of our nation’s critical infrastructure,” said Brandon Wales, acting director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security. Officials describe this effort to harden the power system against cyberattacks as a pilot project of the Biden administration before such measures are enacted for other vulnerable sectors of the country’s infrastructure.  A Government Accountability Office report issued last month warned that the U.S. grid’s distributions systems “are growing more vulnerable, in part because their industrial control systems increasingly allow remote access and connect to business networks.”  The Biden administration also is lifting a temporary ban on acquiring and installing bulk-power systems that serve critical defense systems, while the Energy Department receives industry input for a new executive order on guidelines for purchasing equipment.  Last May, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring “the unrestricted foreign supply of bulk-power system electric equipment” an “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security.” The order restricted purchases and use of such foreign equipment.   
The large, interconnected bulk electric system consists of facilities necessary for operating the power transmission network and maintaining a balance of generation and demand from second to second.  
 
Biden, in his first day in office, suspended Trump’s order for 90 days and directed the Energy Department and the Office of Management and Budget to “jointly consider whether to recommend that a replacement order be issued.” 
 

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Carbon Dioxide Emissions Could Jump 5% as Economies Rebound, Energy Agency Says

Carbon dioxide emissions are expected to grow this year after falling dramatically during the pandemic as economies around the globe contracted.In a report issued Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said emissions of the greenhouse gas would rise by 1.5 billion metric tons, or 5%. While big, the increase is not likely to eclipse the surge seen following the 2008-09 global financial crisis.After a series of stimulus bills, the U.S. economy is expected to grow rapidly in 2021, with growth forecasts at 6% or higher.The group said coal would be the largest driver of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. It said demand for coal was expected to grow 4.5% this year. That would be higher than 2019, but below a 2014 peak.“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the COVID crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a prepared statement. “Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022.”China is the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter and user of coal by far. The U.S. is the world’s third-leading user of coal and the second-largest CO2 emitter. Coal demand in the U.S. and European Union is also expected to rise but is seen remaining below pre-pandemic levels.Most of the new demand, more than 80%, will come from China and other Asian countries, the IEA said.The report came just ahead of a global climate summit this week that will be hosted by the U.S. Some 40 world leaders are expected to attend.

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New Technology Aims to Make Travel Safer During Pandemic

San Francisco’s International Airport and United Airlines have become the first in the U.S. to test technology that enables domestic passengers to check in and board flights with minimal contact between travelers and agents. Those behind the trial say the technology could make traveling safer during the pandemic, as VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports. 

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European ‘Super League’ Plans Set Off Battle for Future of Football

The governing bodies of world football have threatened to ban any club or player taking part in the new European Super League from playing in their competitions, raising the prospect that some of the world’s biggest stars could be banned from representing their countries in the FIFA World Cup. Battle lines are being drawn for the future of football, after a dozen top European clubs signed up to the breakaway competition, which critics say will destroy the traditional structure of the game. On both sides, powerful forces are squaring up for a fight that could decide the future of the global game. Six clubs from Britain — Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea; three from Spain — Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid; and three from Italy — AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus — originally signed up for the breakaway European Super League, whose formation was announced Monday. However, just hours after that announcement, Manchester City confirmed Tuesday they would no longer take part in the competition. It was reported that Chelsea also plans to drop out. The European Super League organizers say the new competition would rival but not replace existing domestic leagues and European tournaments, such as the UEFA Champions League. The founding members would never face relegation. A further five clubs would be admitted through seasonal qualification. A Chelsea fan walks past banners outside the stadium after reports suggest they are set to pull out of the European Super League, London, Britain, April 20, 2021.Sports finance analyst Borja Garcia of Britain’s Loughborough University said the primary motivation for the new league is money. “Football has never been a very good business for club owners until a few years ago. But now, of course, comes the pandemic. Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid — almost every club in Europe and around the world — are in massive debt. But the big clubs are in more debt because they have more salaries to pay. They depend more on audiences,” Garcia told VOA. “So, if I had to pick one (reason), I think it is indeed the level of debt that the pandemic has created in European football. But probably it is fair to say that that is not the cause of everything, but rather, an accelerator,” he said.  U.S. investment bank J.P. Morgan will provide the finance, with each founding club gaining a share of $4.2 billion. Florentino Perez, European Super League chairman and current president of Real Madrid, defended the plans on national television Tuesday, warning that the top clubs had lost a total of $6 billion in the past season because of the pandemic. “At this time, we are doing this to save football, which is at a critical moment,” Perez said. “Soccer has to evolve, like life, like companies, people, mentalities, do. Social media has changed behavior, and football has to change and adapt to the times we live in.” Perez claimed that interest in football was declining among young people, although he did not provide evidence.  “Why are they not interested in football? Well, because there are too many matches of poor quality, and they aren’t interested. They have other platforms to entertain themselves with. That is the reality.  “Viewership declines. The rights were also declining. So, something had to be done, and the pandemic told us we had to do it with urgency. We are all broke. Soccer is global — it’s the only global sport in the world — and these 12 teams and some others have fans all over the world. Therefore, television is what needs to change so that we can adapt to the times,” Perez said. Opposition Plans for the European Super League have united a broad coalition of opponents. One poll suggested that almost 80% of British football fans are against the idea. “I think it is more despicable, it is more of a greedy power grab than we ever expected,” said Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe. “And they claim that they do it in the interest of football. They claim that they do it in the interests of everyone. They even claim that this is a response to the challenges of the pandemic. What they only really do is endanger the economic model of football and put every single club in Europe in danger.”  Chelsea fans protest the planned European Super League outside the stadium, in London, Britain, April 20, 2021.Sports historian Philip Barker told VOA the proposals for the European Super League go against centuries of competition. “The dream of actually coming up through the four divisions, doing what Wimbledon did many, many years ago — they came up from non-league football. We’ve seen it with (the) Wycombe Wanderers this past season — they got up to the championship. That dream of ascending through the levels of the pyramid was still there. But with this European Super League, there appears to be no promotion and relegations. It’s effectively a closed shop for the giants of the game,” Barker said. He added, “There is a school of thought that says that this is not actually for certain, but it’s a bargaining chip, because the big clubs were not happy with how UEFA was looking to expand the Champions League.”  Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, the managers of Liverpool and Manchester City respectively — both signatories of the European Super League — have voiced their opposition, as well. Critics have called the European Super League a “closed shop” that will destroy smaller clubs. “The European model of sport is supposed to be … a model where the whole football pyramid is linked together, so the top of the pyramid has a duty of care for the bottom of the pyramid,” Garcia of Loughborough University said. The European Union and the British government say it’s vital to preserve that model. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday at a press conference he would “look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead.” He said, “Football was invented and codified in this country. It is one of the great glories of this country’s cultural heritage. These clubs, these names originate from famous towns and cities in our country. And I don’t think (it’s) right that they should be somehow dislocated from their hometowns, home cities, taken and turned into national brands and commodities, just circulate the planet propelled by the billions of banks, without any reference to fans and those who’ve loved them all their lives.”  Bans and consequences UEFA, which governs European football, and FIFA, which oversees world football, have threatened to ban all clubs and players taking part in the European Super League from participating in their competitions, including the World Cup. Speaking at the FIFA Congress in Montreux, Switzerland, Tuesday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino warned the participating clubs that there would be consequences. “If some elect to go their own way, then they must live with the consequences of their choice. They are responsible for their choice. Concretely, this means either you’re in or you’re out. You cannot be half in or half out. Think about it. Everyone has to think about it, and this has to be absolutely, absolutely clear. We can see that there is a lot to throw away for maybe a short-term financial gain of some, and people need to think very carefully,” he said. New fans, markets The European Super League is designed to appeal to fans outside of Europe and to take advantage of new markets. Some fans in Asia expressed support. “I’m mostly interested in watching these amazing matches and stiff competition. This could have a lot more appeal,” said Kevin Wang, an Inter Milan fan from Beijing. Dalad Suriyo, a Manchester United fan from Bangkok, shares that view. “I agree with the breakaway, as the football players can build up their strengths in the league,” Suriyo said. Some fans in Europe also support the changes. “I think the level of these clubs (involved in the European Super League) would improve, and it would create better matches for the audience. That would not fit very much with UEFA for economic reasons, and that’s why they are against it,” said Madrid student Andres Cruz. 
 

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EMA Finds Link Between Johnson & Johnson Vaccine and Blood Clots

Europe’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said Tuesday it found a possible link between the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and rare forms of blood clots, but that the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks.
In its statement Tuesday, the EMA said that its drug safety group, the Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC), after reviewing all available evidence, concluded that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s product information should include a warning about unusual blood clots with low blood platelets.
The committee concluded that the events should be listed as very rare side effects of the vaccine.
The EMA gave a similar assessment of the AstraZeneca vaccine which also was found to have a possible link to rare blood clots.
The EMA reviewed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following a small number of reports from the United States of serious cases of unusual blood clots associated with low levels of blood platelets among people who had received the vaccine – one of which had a fatal outcome. As of April 13, more than 7 million people in the U.S. had received Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine.
All cases occurred in people under 60 years of age within three weeks of vaccination, the majority in women.
The reports prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration to recommend a “pause” in the use of the vaccine in the United States while further evaluations were carried out.  
On Monday, top U.S. immunologist and Chief Presidential Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci told reporters the pause on the use of the vaccine could be lifted as early as this week.

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A Recycling Machine Sells the Idea of Consumers Doing More for the Environment

An innovative home recycling unit aims to revolutionize the world of recycling as we know it. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.Camera: Adam Greenbaum 
Producers: Julie Taboh/Adam Greenbaum  

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New Vaccine Center For Broadway Workers Opens in NYC

In an effort to bring Broadway back in the spotlight, New York City opened a new COVID-19 vaccination center for Broadway stage and screen workers on Times Square. Evgeny Maslov has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.Camera: Michael Eckels     
 

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