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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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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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India Reports Record 273,810 Daily COVID Cases

India’s health ministry Monday announced a record 273,810 new COVID cases in the previous 24-hour period while officials in the capital, New Delhi, announced a weeklong lockdown. The infections reported Monday are the most the country has seen in a single day since the pandemic began. About 1 in 3 people tested for COVID-19 in New Delhi recently returned a positive result, according to the city’s chief minister Sunday.  “The bigger worry is that in last 24 hours, positivity rate has increased to around 30% from 24%,” Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, told a news briefing Sunday.  “The cases are rising very rapidly. The beds are filling fast,” he said.  People in Delhi have turned to social media to complain about the lack of oxygen canisters and the shortages of hospital beds and drugs.  People queue outside a wine store to buy liquor after the Delhi government ordered a six-day lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease, in New Delhi, India, April 19, 2021.With more than 15 million total infections, India is second to the United States, which has recorded 31.6 million cases.  Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 88, was hospitalized Monday in New Delhi after testing positive for COVID-19. Just more than 1% of India’s population has been vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.  Indian officials announced Monday that everyone 18 or older will be eligible to receive a vaccine beginning May 1. Greta Thunberg In other developments Monday, global climate change activist Greta Thunberg said it was unethical for rich countries to vaccinate their younger citizens before vulnerable groups in developing countries receive inoculations. FILE – Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrives for a news conference in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 20, 2020.”Vaccine nationalism is what is running the vaccine distribution,” Thunberg said from Sweden during a virtual press briefing by the World Health Organization in Geneva. WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “We have the tools to bring this pandemic under control in a matter of months if we apply them consistently and equitably.” In Turkey, deaths from COVID-19 reached a new daily high of 341. The country began Monday making COVID-19 vaccines available for all people 55 and older. Also Monday, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech said they would provide 100 million more doses of their coronavirus vaccine to the European Union this year. The extra doses bring the total doses promised by Pfizer and BioNTech to the EU to 600 million in 2021.  In IranOn Sunday, Iran reported its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus in months, as hospitals in the capital and elsewhere were filling to capacity.  Iran’s health ministry reported 405 deaths from the virus and confirmed more than 21,000 infections Sunday.  Iran’s vaccination campaign has been slow and dependent on a range of domestically made vaccines. About one-tenth of 1% of its population has been fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins.  Vaccine numbersMeanwhile Sunday, Israel lifted the requirement that masks be worn outdoors. Nearly 56% of its population is fully vaccinated against the virus, according to Johns Hopkins.  Pedestrians walk on a boulevard as Israel rescinds the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors in the latest return to relative normality, boosted by a mass-vaccination campaign against the coronavirus pandemic, in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 18, 2021.The United States reported Sunday that just over half of its adult population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.  The United States halted use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while it investigates rare incidents of blood clots, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said he expects use of the shot to resume within a week.  “I doubt very seriously if they just cancel it. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I do think that there will likely be some sort of warning or restriction or risk assessment,” Fauci said on NBC’s Meet the Press.  There have been more than 3 million global deaths from the coronavirus.   
 

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South Sudan Stops Using Doses of AstraZeneca Vaccine Over Expiration Fears

South Sudan health officials have stopped administering 60,000 doses of the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine that are past the expiration date but still have a shelf life of at least six months, according to the drugmaker and the World Health Organization.  The doses, which were donated by the mobile telecommunications network MTN and the African Union (AU), arrived in Juba about three weeks ago. Dr. Richard Lako, the incident manager for COVID-19 operations at the South Sudan health ministry, told reporters Sunday in Juba that the vaccine is no longer being used. “We later discovered the lifespan of this vaccine is just remaining 14 days, so immediately we started engaging because if we start them, we may not be able to finish, so the ministry is now engaging the AU and the team with regards to that effect,” Lako said. FILE – A member of South Sudanese Ministry of Health Rapid Response Team takes a nasal sample from a woman at her home in Juba, South Sudan, April 14, 2020.The health ministry is working with the country’s food and drug authorities to safely dispose of the doses, according to Lako.   “Not all medicine disposal can be done easily. Vaccines are very difficult and it has to be handled differently. The drug and food authority already led the policy which, as a ministry, we have to abide by and now engage with the AU and other people to see how we deal with this,” he said. World Health Organization officials present at the briefing declined to answer questions about the vaccine’s expiration date, but India’s drug regulator has allowed the vaccine — which goes by the brand name Covishield and is made by the Serum Institute of India — to be used for up to nine months from its manufacture date, rather than the prescribed six months. AstraZeneca says its product can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions for at least six months. The World Health Organization website also gives the shelf life of six months for Covishield and the South Korean-made AstraZeneca shot. The AstraZeneca doses have been exported to dozens of countries, including South Sudan. Dr. Guyo Argata Guracha, the WHO emergency team leader in South Sudan, noted at Sunday’s weekly COVID press briefing the vaccine’s expiration date is different from the vaccine’s shelf life. “From the WHO point of view, these are new vaccines, the expiry or it is called shelf life not even expiry date really — actually let it be shelf life, we don’t have to talk about expiry date — the shelf life of this vaccine is six months from now. We cannot say it is really expired but we can talk of the shelf life, which is six months,” Guracha said. The doses donated by MTN and the AU arrived in Juba shortly after 132,000 AstraZeneca doses arrived in the capital from the COVAX facility, a global collaboration that was formed to speed up the production and equitable distribution of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. Lako said the COVAX doses remain usable up to July. He said about 2,000 people — mostly health workers — have been vaccinated in South Sudan. The government recently lifted a partial lockdown on the country after registering a significant drop in COVID-19 cases over several weeks, but that doesn’t mean the public should stop wearing face masks, Lako said. “The cases are coming down but COVID-19 is there, we still have some pockets of reporting areas. We have actually spotted in the last three or four weeks still places like Pariang, Pamet, Nimule, Mapuordit and Agok in particular,” added Lako. To date, South Sudan has recorded 10,475 positive cases, 10,215 recoveries, and 114 COVID-19 deaths.   
 

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