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Science news digest – 19th November 2013

In the science news this week, Flusurvey will collect data from schools, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest increases, and finally… UK scientists will track massive Antarctic iceberg.

Flusurvey to be held in schools

Scientists will for the first time this winter, collect data from schools in order to better understand the spread of flu, reported the BBC.

The Flusurvey surveillance project has been running for five years, but this is the first time that classrooms are being encouraged to register with the system.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have teamed up with the National Science & Engineering Week team at the Association to understand what role children play in catching and spreading the disease.

Last winter, the highest rates of infection were reported in the under-18 age group. Head of the project, Dr Alma Adler, explained: "Last year we found that taking public transport does not increase your risk of catching flu and we discovered that 'man flu' didn't really exist - in fact women were slightly more likely to report feeling worse when they have flu than men.

"This year we're keen to find out more about children because they are the 'key spreaders' of flu."

You can find out more about the project and how you can get involved on the Flusurvey website.


Deforestation in Amazon rainforest increases

The deforestation of the Amazon jungle increased by nearly a third over the past year according to figures released by the Brazilian government last week.

Over the past decade there had been a steady decline in the loss of the world’s largest rainforest, but last year saw that pattern reverse, reported the Guardian.

Satellite images show that for the 12 months before the end of July 2013, an area of 5,850 sq km (2,250 sq miles) of rainforest was destroyed – 28% more than the previous year.

Sadly, this figure just confirms what was already suspected by scientists and environmentalists.

"You can't argue with numbers," said Marcio Astrini, co-ordinator for the Amazon campaign at the Brazilian chapter of Greenpeace. "This is not alarmist – it's a real and measured inversion of what had been a positive trend."

Also, in the news this week, an interactive map showing global deforestation over the past decade, was released by researchers at the University of Maryland, reported Wired.

The map shows the changes in forested areas across the whole globe between 2000 and 2012 – so doesn’t include the latest figure showing an increase in the destruction of the Amazon.

The team, led by Matthew Hansen, analysed 143 billion pixels in 654,000 images captured by Landsat to see which areas are seeing either a loss or gain of forest.

The map is incredibly detailed – each pixel represents just 30 square metres. The results show that overall, between 2000 and 2012, 2.3 million square kilometres of forest were lost, but another 800,000 sq km showed new growth.

Indonesia’s deforestation rate doubled from 10,000 sq km per year to over 20,000 sq km per year during this time.

Google have also helped with the analysis, and have created a custom map that shows the results, which you can explore yourself.


And finally…

UK scientists will track massive iceberg in the Southern Ocean

A team of Earth systems scientists in the UK have been awarded an emergency £50k grant to track and predict the course of a massive iceberg that has broken away from Antarctica.

The iceberg measures a whopping 700 sq km, and it is feared it could drift into the busy shipping lanes in the Southern Ocean reported Wired.

The berg was part of the Pine Island Glacier. The crack in the glacier was first noticed by NASA in 2011, but it wasn’t until July of this year that it became clear the crack went all the way through the glacier.

"The iceberg remained attached to the glacier for four months [after this] because it had been winter in the southern hemisphere and the iceberg is likely to have been frozen against the glacier," said Professor Grant Bigg, from the University of Sheffield, who is leading the study.

"We expected it to break-away, but did not know when this would occur. From satellite images you couldn't see much evidence of the split widening until 11 November."

Professor Bigg put in the application for the grant, along with a team from the University of Southampton, three weeks after it was noticed that the crack went all the way through the glacier. The team were awarded the grant following images released on 11 November that showed the gap had now widened to a few kilometres.

The concern is not just the size of this iceberg – being eight times the size of Manhattan – but also its unknown trajectory. An iceberg of that size can survive for several years before melting, according to Professor Bigg.

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