World Science & Tech

Science & Technology News from around the world.

Japan spacecraft carrying asteroid soil samples nears home

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese spacecraft is nearing Earth after a yearlong journey home from a distant asteroid with soil samples and data that could provide clues to the origins of the solar system, a space agency official said Friday.The Hayabusa2 spacecraft left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth, a year ago and is expected to reach Earth and drop a capsule containing the precious samples in southern Australia on Dec. 6.Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency believe the samples, especially those taken from under the asteroid's surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.Makoto Yoshikawa, a Hayabusa2 project mission manager, said scientists are especially interested in analyzing organic materials in the Ryugu soil samples. “Organic materials are origins of life on Earth, but we still don(asterisk)t know where they came from,” Yoshikawa said. “We are hoping to find clues to the origin of life on Earth by analyzing details of the organic materials brought back by Hayabusa2."JAXA, the space agency, plans to drop the capsule containing the samples onto a remote, sparsely populated area in Australia from 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) away in space, a big challenge requiring precision control. The capsule, protected by a heat shield, will turn into a fireball during re-entry in the atmosphere at 200 kilometers (125 miles) above ground. At about 10 kilometers (6 miles) above ground, a parachute will open to prepare for landing, and beacon signals will be transmitted to indicate its location. JAXA staff have set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to catch the signals, while also preparing marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval mission. Without those measures, a search for the pan-shaped capsule with a diameter of 40 centimeters (15 inches) "would be an extremely difficult," Yoshikawa told reporters.For Hayabusa2, it’s not the end of the mission it started in 2014. After dropping the capsule, it will return to space and head to another distant small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a journey slated to take 10 years. Hayabusa2 touched down on Ryugu twice, despite its extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1½ years after it arrived there in June 2018.In the first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In July, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that it had earlier created by blasting the asteroid’s surface.Scientists said there are traces of carbon and organic matter in the asteroid soil samples. JAXA hopes to find clues to how the materials are distributed in the solar system and are related to life on Earth.Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may help explain how Earth evolved. It took the spacecraft 3½ years to arrive at Ryugu, but the journey home was much shorter because of the current locations of Ryugu and Earth.Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.___Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at hpps://

The Latest | Biden prioritizes climate change with Kerry pick

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President-elect Joe Biden (all times local):2 p.m.President-elect Joe Biden says his creation of a senior climate post on the National Security Council will put climate change “on the agenda in the situation room” for the first time.Biden talked to reporters Tuesday after naming former Secretary of State John Kerry as his climate envoy in national security matters.Biden says the appointment means the U.S. will have a “full-time climate leader” for the first time in top-level meetings to make sure the issue does not get overlooked.Biden’s emphasis on curbing the fossil fuel emissions that cause global warming, and on dealing with worsening natural disasters and other problems of climate change, come in intense contrast to the views of President Donald Trump. Trump has said scientists were mistaken in their warnings on global warming.Biden says he’ll announce a climate-policy coordinator and policy-making structure for his administration next month.___HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN'S TRANSITION TO THE WHITE HOUSE:President-elect Joe Biden formally introduced his national security team to the nation, building out a team of Obama administration alumni that signals his shift away from the Trump administration’s “America First” policies and a return to U.S. engagement on the global stage.Read more:— Biden transition gets government OK after Trump out of options— Biden certified as winner of Pennsylvania presidential vote___HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON:1:35 p.m.President-elect Joe Biden says he is “pleased” that his administration has officially been allowed to begin the transition process in filling out a new government.Biden said Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware, that receiving the transitional status known as “ascertainment” would allow his team to “prepare to meet the challenges at hand” in transferring power from the Trump administration to his own.Late Monday, the General Services Administration “ascertained” that Biden is the apparent winner of this month’s presidential election. That process gives the incoming president and his team access to officials at federal agencies and directs the Justice Department to work on security clearances for transition team members and Biden political appointees. Biden spoke as he rolled out his picks to fill top national security slots in his Cabinet including secretary of state, national security adviser and a new, Cabinet-level post dedicated to climate change. He said he hoped his nominees receive a prompt confirmation process.___1:20 p.m.President-elect Joe Biden says his national security team will lead the way in reflecting the fact that “America is back” on the world stage.During a speech Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said that his team would “embody my core beliefs that America is strongest when it works with its allies.”In rolling out his national security picks, including top posts for State Department and Department of Homeland Security, Biden said the nominees show “experience and leadership, fresh thinking and perspective and an unrelenting belief in the promise of America.”The State Department alone has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks during the Trump administration. Many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service, given limited prospects for advancements under an administration they believed did not value their expertise.___1:10 p.m.A leading Republican political committee has begun airing a campaign ad warning that if a Democratic Senate candidate wins a January runoff election in Georgia, liberals will “control everything” in Washington. The choice of words is noteworthy because it implies that President Donald Trump has been defeated by Joe Biden. That’s a fact that Trump has refused to acknowledge more than two weeks after the election was called for the Democrat, and that many top Republicans have also been loath to concede. The Senate Leadership Fund began airing the ad Tuesday. It attacks Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is challenging incumbent GOP Sen. David Perdue. The ad says Ossoff supports “liberal megadonors’” agenda of “job-killing tax hikes, economy-killing regulations.”The ad says, “The radical left bought Ossoff. Because if he wins, they control everything, and we lose.” The spot began airing the morning after the General Services Administration formally agreed to let the transition to a Biden administration begin. The leadership fund is closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.There is also a second runoff in Georgia pitting incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Raphael Warnock.Democrats must win both Georgia races to capture the Senate majority. That would create a 50-50 chamber, which Democrats would control because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote.

Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn and Chris Columbus save Christmas

They may be one of Hollywood’s most beloved couples, but Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn have never felt the pressure to use that unmatched chemistry for the big screen time and time again. Since 1987's “Overboard," they’ve received hundreds of opportunities to reunite in a film. Although none seemed quite right until another longtime, A-list pair landed at their feet: Santa and Mrs. Claus. The film is “The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two,” a sequel to the 2018 Netflix picture that introduced Russell as a Santa who's more superhero-meets-Elvis speedracing his sled than jolly old Saint Nick sitting by a fire. At the urging of Chris Columbus, who produced the first, Hawn appeared as Mrs. Claus in a cameo at the end. “When Goldie appeared on screen, she brought the house down,” said Columbus, who stepped up to direct this one. “We knew we had to do the next one with Goldie, if she would do it, if she would have us.”It debuts on Netflix on Wednesday right in time for Thanksgiving. And, unsurprisingly, the Clauses have never looked better. This wasn’t some slapdash, stunt Christmas cash grab, either. It was born of a genuine love of the holiday and became a deeply personal endeavor for all three.Christmas was big in the Russell and Columbus houses growing up. Columbus even said he was downright obsessed, although he hated the aluminum tree that his mother used. He had previously set “Gremlins,” which he wrote, and “Home Alone” at Christmastime, but both of those were kind of horror films in different ways — one a horror comedy and the other a horrific situation. In his mind, he’d never made a real Christmas movie, most of which he considers pretty bad. This was chance to unapologetically lean into the yuletide spirit. He and Russell worked on the script for months going deep into character questions about where Santa comes from, how he met Mrs. Claus, how long have they been together and what is their relationship like. Russell even composed a 200-page “bible” as backstory. “Kurt approached this like any actor approaching a great role, which is rare for Santa Claus, if we’re being honest. It's only been played well a couple of times," Columbus said. “And this is the great one right here.”That seriousness extended to Mrs. Claus, who they crafted into a pillar of strength and love. Hawn wanted to ensure that she did more than bake cookies too.“There was no Mrs. Claus we could really identify with. She was a character that was iconic for no other reason than she was the wife of Santa,” Hawn said. “I thought, I don’t want to be the one that continues to bring him his slippers. I mean, it’s just not the way women are today.”She was tempted to bring her classic playfulness to the role, but Columbus encouraged her to make this Mrs. Claus a little more grounded.Hawn, who just turned 75 this weekend, is deeply sincere when she says she loves this film and this character. In fact, she took a souvenir from set and plans to hang it in her Aspen house, which she said she’s redoing to make it look like Santa’s Village. Russell can't help but think of his late father Bing Russell, who loved Christmas deeply and helped make the holiday a major event in their household. “I dedicate these to my dad,” Russell said.He’s also excited that their six grandchildren will be able to watch the film and maybe even earn some bragging rights among their peers. “I like the idea that there’s a period of time when those kids can go to school and say, well, my grandmother and grandfather are Mrs. Claus and Santa,” Russell said, beaming. “OK, so top that!”Each film in the Hawn and Russell oeuvre has come at distinctly different phases for the couple. On 1968’s “The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band” they were strangers, on 1984’s “Swing Shift,” they were falling in love and on 1987’s “Overboard” they were becoming a family. Over three decades later, Hawn reflected on where they are now. “This is an interesting phase because there is so much love and history and all the ups and downs of a relationship, and now we’re looking at our grandchildren and these are sort of the special years. And we are looking at fun things to do together, whereas before we were more pulled away by different things,” Hawn said. “It’s a time of friendship, really. I mean, there’s love, but also friendship is very important as you get older: The trust in each other, supporting each other, being there for each other and feeling the safety and the security of that relationship that you’ve worked with and within and all that for close to 40 years.”—-Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter:

Lunar mission is latest milestone in China’s space ambitions

WENCHANG, China (AP) — China’s latest trip to the moon is another milestone in the Asian powerhouse’s slow but steady ascent to the stars.China became the third country to put a person into orbit a generation ago and the first to land on the far side of the moon in 2019. Future ambitions include a permanent space station and putting people back on the moon more than 50 years after the U.S. did.But even before the latest lunar mission lifted off before dawn Tuesday, a top program official maintained that China isn't competing with anyone. “China will set its development goals in the space industry based on its own considerations of science and engineering technology," Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center at the China National Space Administration, told reporters hours before the Chang'e 5 mission was launched.“We do not place rivals (before us) when setting those goals,” Pei said.Whether that is true or not is debatable. China has a national plan to seize global leadership in key technologies and the space program has been a major component of that. It also is a source of national pride to lift the reputation of the ruling Communist Party.What’s clear is that China’s cautious, incremental approach has racked up success after success since it first put a person in space in 2003, joining the former Soviet Union and the United States. That has been followed by more crewed missions, the launch of a space lab, the placing of a rover on the moon’s relatively unexplored far side and, this year, an operation to land on Mars. The Chang'e 5 mission, if successful, would be the first time moon rocks and debris are brought to Earth since a 1976 Soviet mission. The four modules of the spacecraft blasted off atop a massive Long March-5Y rocket from the Wenchang launch center on Hainan island. The mission’s main task is to drill 2 meters (about 7 feet) into the moon’s surface and scoop up about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and other debris. The lander will deposit them in an ascender. A return capsule will deliver them back to Earth, landing on the grasslands of the Inner Mongolia region in mid-December. “Pulling off the Chang'e 5 mission would be an impressive feat for any nation," said Florida-based expert Stephen Clark of the publication Spaceflight Now.China prides itself on arriving at this point largely through its own efforts, although Russia helped early on with astronaut training and China's crewed Shenzhou space capsule is based on Russia's Soyuz. While there has been collaboration with some other nations, notably those belonging to the European Space Agency, which has provided tracking support for Chinese missions, the United States isn't one of them. U.S. law requires Congressional approval for cooperation between NASA and China's military-linked program. Ongoing political and economic disputes, notably accusations that China steals or compels the transfer of sensitive trade secrets, appear to dim the prospects for closer ties. China's space program has at times been seen as recreating achievements attained years ago by others, primarily the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. Even China's permanent space station, now under construction, is partly a response to its exclusion from the International Space Station, mainly at the insistence of the U.S.Other countries are also forging ahead, underscored by the dramatic landing of America's Curiosity Mars rover in 2012 and the return to Earth next month of Japan's explorer Hayabusa2 with samples collected from the asteroid Ryugu. Still, China can boast an “increasingly sophisticated and demonstrated space expertise," said Henry Hertzfeld, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs. Lunar exploration remains a priority for China, something that in the future will likely take the form of “a human-machine combination,” Pei told reporters. No target date for a crewed moon mission has been announced, but Pei said a goal down the line is to build an international lunar research station that can provide long-term support for scientific exploration activities on the lunar surface. “We will determine when to implement a manned lunar landing based on scientific needs and technical and economic conditions," he said.

Saints exhibiting depth, chemistry, execution in all phases

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Even as Taysom Hill produced amply in his triumphant first start, his job was made considerably easier by a defense that has allowed just one touchdown in three games. The levels of depth and performance on both sides of the ball have given the Saints, winners of seven straight, the look of a team that is only getting stronger as the final stretch of the regular season arrives.“We’ll be hard to beat if we’re able to play that way,” said Saints running back Latavius Murray, who contributed to a ground game that gained 168 yards in a 24-9 victory over Atlanta on Sunday. The 30-year-old Hill, now in his fourth NFL season out of BYU, was highly efficient and dynamic in his maiden start at quarterback. He completed 78.3% of his passes and did not throw an interception. He also rushed for a team-high 51 yards and two touchdowns.That's the kind of production that might lead one to believe he'll retain the starting job as long as Drew Brees is sidelined with fractured ribs. The 41-year-old Brees has to miss at least two more games after being placed on injured reserve last week. But Saints coach Sean Payton on Monday wasn't inclined to confirm Hill would continue to start over Jameis Winston, a 2015 top overall draft choice who started for most of his five seasons at Tampa Bay.“Look, we’re not making any big announcements. That’s not us," Payton said when asked about Hill's status as starter this week. "We thought he played well. There were a lot of things we did well in that game defensively. We won the field position battle. We won a number of situational battles. We ran the ball well, especially in the second half. It was a real good team win ... but outside of that, we’ll take each week with the approach of what’s best for our team.”The Saints' defense, particularly the secondary, looked like a liability early this season, when coverage busts were common and New Orleans (8-2) began the season with losses in two of its first three games. But the Saints have not lost since, and the defense has come on strong lately, highlighted by an uptick in sacks and forced turnovers. “It took us a while to get going, because we had to jell together, get that chemistry, know our goals, know our roles, just continue to play football and not focus on the outside because everybody knows how the season started,” Saints defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson said. "Everybody (outside of the locker room) started panicking for us and we were just like, we are going to get it going. You see it coming together in the past couple weeks and it is going well for us right now.”WHAT’S WORKINGThe pass rush has been consistently unsettling opposing quarterbacks lately and the secondary has helped with good coverage, particularly during the past three games. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan was sacked eight times and intercepted twice on Sunday. San Francisco’s Nick Mullens was sacked twice and intercepted twice as week earlier. And Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady was sacked three times and intercepted three times in Week 9.“These last couple games the defense has been striding in the right direction,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “The beautiful thing is there is room for us to grow.”WHAT NEEDS HELPAs well as the Saints are playing overall, their offense struggled somewhat on third downs Sunday. They converted just four of 11 and only one in the first half. STOCK UP Hill is now much more than a change-of-pace option QB and utility player who dabbles in the receiving game as a tight end and helps out on special teams. He’s an increasingly credible candidate to contend for the starting quarterback job if Brees retires within the next year or two.STOCK DOWN Winston didn’t get the start as conventional wisdom suggested he might. And the way Hill played raises the possibility that Winston won’t get much, if any, playing time while Brees remains out.INJUREDLeft guard Andrus Peat is recovering this week from a concussion during Sunday’s game, while returner Deonte Harris hopes to come back from a stinger injury in the neck and shoulder area.KEY NUMBER21 — The Saints’ average margin of victory in their previous three games, all won by double digits with no margin smaller than 14. The first four victories of their seven-game winning streak each were by six or fewer points, with three coming by three points and two in overtime.NEXT STEPSThe Saints visit Denver, where Hill should be well suited to handle the climate an altitude, considering he grew up in Idaho and played at BYU. ___Follow Brett Martel at AP NFL coverage: and

EU invites Biden to patch up trans-Atlantic ties

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union chief Charles Michel is inviting Joe Biden once he is U.S. president to come visit and patch up trans-Atlantic relations that have suffered over the past four years under President Donald Trump. “Now is the time to join forces. In a changing world, our partnership will be more important than ever to protect our citizens, relaunch our economies, stop global warming and create a safer world," Michel said in a statement Monday after a call with the American president-elect. “The EU and the U.S. will always have more impact when taking steps together,” Michel said. The 27-nation bloc has often complained about a worsening relationship under Trump, and hope that with Biden, trans-Atlantic ties can be rekindled like they were under President Barack Obama. Over the past years, both sides disagreed over key topics from trade and security to the fight against climate change. Now, Michel said Biden should come over next year for a meeting with EU leaders. During his tenure, Trump variously stunned and disappointed the Europeans — most of them members of the NATO military alliance that Washington leads — by slapping tariffs on EU exports and pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

Coastal harm from invading saltwater ‘happening right now’

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Four Native American tribes on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast requested United Nations assistance this year to force action by the U.S. government on invading salt. Their formal complaint cited “climate-forced displacement’’ and said saltwater had poisoned their land, their crops and their medicinal plants.“That strips us of not only being able to generate an income to provide for ourselves, it also strips us of our ability to feed ourselves healthy,” Shirell Parfait-Dardar, chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, said in an interview.The tribes’ plight offers an extreme example of a lesser-known but fast-growing impact in the climate crisis: saltwater intrusion.___The Howard Center in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland is funded by $3 million from the Scripps Howard Foundation. It honors Roy W. Howard, one of the newspaper world’s pioneers.___The landward movement of seawater threatens drinking water supplies, coastal farming and coastal ecosystems. Rising seas, more frequent storms, higher tides, drought and the pressure of pumping for drinking water are combining to accelerate the salt invasion.New scientific research along the East Coast and in California shows measurable and sometimes startling change, much of it from saltwater’s unseen advance beneath the surface. The threat is widespread; roughly 40% of Americans live in coastal counties, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.“It’s not something that we need to wait until 2050 or 2100 for. It’s not something happening only to polar bears. It’s happening right now,” said Marcelo Ardon, an associate professor of ecology and biogeochemistry at North Carolina State University who is documenting changes in North Carolina’s coastline.The cascading consequences of saltwater intrusion were starkly revealed in interviews with more than 100 researchers, planners and coastal residents, along with soil testing, drone footage and analyses of well-sample data conducted by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism.Among the Howard Center’s findings:— Thousands of acres of farmland have gone out of production as salt imparts its ruinous properties to croplands. A single county in southern Maryland has lost more than 2 square miles of farm-rich uplands while in California, planners in the fertile Central Valley are fighting to stem losses from historic salt deposits that already total 250,000 acres.— Drinking water supplies in public aquifers and private wells from Long Island, New York, to the Florida Keys are increasingly threatened as some underground sources reach salinity levels nearly equal to seawater. In Miami-Dade County, Florida, homeowners and businesses can expect their water and sewer bills to rise 5% every year through at least the next decade, said Water and Sewer Director Kevin Lynskey.— In South Florida, nearly one-third of 215 monitoring wells showed a five-year trend of increasing salinity with just 16 showing a downward salinity trend, according to a Howard Center analysis of U.S. Geological Survey test results. The problem is compounded by a massive saltwater plume radiating from the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station toward wellfields in the Biscayne aquifer that supply drinking water in the Miami area.— Coastal wetlands, a buffer against more frequent storms and a sink to capture carbon, are fast disappearing. In Maryland, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge already has seen 5,000 acres of wetland disappear. In Louisiana -- which loses nearly 30 square miles of coastal marsh yearly -- a study concludes that remaining wetlands could be gone within 50 years.— “Ghost forests” of dead and dying trees are spreading along coastlines from New Jersey to the Gulf of Mexico as saltwater pummels from above and seeps in from beneath.Along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia, once-verdant forests are being transformed into foreboding vistas of bleached-white tree skeletons engulfed by invasive plants.In North Carolina along the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula, roughly 15% of a 65-square-mile area has changed recently from healthy forest into ghost forest, according to newly published research by Lindsey Smart, a research associate at North Carolina State’s Center for Geospatial Analytics.And on the Gulf Coast along the Suwannee River, which runs from Georgia to the Florida Panhandle, “The pines, oaks, cedars and palms have this orderly trajectory of death based on who can hack it in a saline environment and who can’t,’’ said David Kaplan, who heads the H.T. Odum Center for Wetlands at the University of Florida. “One of the last remnants are the palms … the last to go.”In one recent success, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in southern Maryland — a focus of researchers from around the world because of its rapid change — acquired over 3,000 acres for marsh migration.The transaction pointed to the stakes as coastal lands rich in history disappear: Ten acres of a newly purchased parcel were the homestead of Ben Ross, father of Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and underground railroad conductor who led the pre-Civil War escape of dozens of slaves.THE INVISIBLE FLOOD“It’s an enormous change, immense,” Emily Bernhardt, a Duke University ecosystem ecologist, said of saltwater’s impacts. “Even as an expert on the topic, I have been shocked to discover the extent of coastal forests lost to sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion over the last several decades.”Yet, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations scientific body established to study the warming climate and prepare for change, observed in a report last year that information is lacking.In September, the National Science Foundation awarded University of Maryland agroecologist Kate Tully and her partners a $4.3 million grant to study saltwater intrusion — a measure of scientific concern about the problem.In a TEDx talk she delivered in September, Tully said that “many people are unaware, but there is an invisible flood moving far inland in advance of the surface floods that can drown our homes.”She added in an interview: “We can’t in the short term stop the seas from rising, but we can manage this transition intelligently and do it in a coordinated way. But we have to have buy-in from farmers, from the communities and from local governments. And the solutions need to be science-based.”Said Duke’s Bernhardt: “These salty fields and dying forests are happening throughout rural coastal areas, which are often economically disadvantaged. I worry about whether farmers and landowners in these communities will have the resources needed to adapt to the changes already occurring.”'LIKE THE EARLY STAGES OF CANCER' Saltwater intrusion also is a threat to lands inland.“It’s the sleeping giant of most semiarid regions on the planet,” Wesley Danskin, a research hydrologist at the USGS in California, said of troubles stemming from salt.Salt is a significant threat in the farm-rich Central Valley of California. Local agencies are implementing plans to balance overdrafted aquifers — critical water supplies that are prone to saltwater intrusion.“If those aquifers are not recharged and restored, eventually you won’t have any agriculture,” said Marc Del Piero, an expert in water law who once sat on the state’s Water Resources Control Board.Proponents say recharging aquifers by putting freshwater back into them will preserve agriculture in California. But the path to sustainability is laden with sacrifice.Over the next 20 years, farmers in California may have to fallow anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million acres of farmland due to a decreased water supply, according to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California.“It’s like the early stages of cancer,” said Daniel Cozad, executive director of the Central Valley Salinity Coalition, an alliance of public agencies, nonprofits and private interests. “You don’t feel it, you don’t see it and everything seems to be pretty normal. But if you’re not keeping track of it, it can get much worse.”WETLANDS AS CARBON SINKSCoastal wetlands and mangroves increasingly inundated by saltwater are some of the world’s most effective carbon-storage ecosystems. They capture carbon dioxide — the primary greenhouse gas from human activities — and permanently store it, preventing it from entering the atmosphere.Many nations are looking ahead to the time of a functioning global carbon market that enables countries and corporations to meet emission-reduction goals by buying credits that, in effect, invest in carbon-cutting projects elsewhere.President-elect Joe Biden is being pressed to move toward establishing a price on carbon, a politically divisive step. His transition team already has received a set of proposals that includes establishing a “carbon bank” in the Department of Agriculture for paying farmers and landowners to store carbon.“It’s a system that has the potential to be managed,” said Ken Krauss, a USGS research ecologist who is working with foreign partners. “Over time, if we can figure out how to do it, you can manage these forests to make them more or less tidal to potentially sequester more carbon and store it long term.”From NOAA satellite data, Elliott White Jr. in Virginia’s Plant Ecology and Remote Sensing Lab calculated that coastal regions from Maine to Texas had experienced a net loss of 5,387 square miles of coastal and river swamps in a 20-year period from 1996 to 2016.White said that with saltwater advancing through rivers and groundwater, forests inland will experience similar loss in diversity and loss in size.“Swamps, despite people always wanting to drain them, are important for cultural reasons,’’ he said. Throughout history, swampy coasts have offered refuge for people in need of it, among them enslaved people and Native American tribes. Cajun culture sprouted where the Acadians settled in the swamps of southern Louisiana.“People should care because if we lose these wetlands, we’re losing a multitude of things,” White said.Along the Louisiana coast -- where a football field of land is being lost every 100 minutes -- the tribes threatened with relocation have yet to hear an answer from the United Nations.On the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw land, Chief Parfait-Dardar said saltwater has killed trees, which leads to more erosion, while destroying community gardens.Saltwater intrusion, she said, “affects everything. … It’s all working in one big circle and it’s quite heartbreaking to watch.”Online: Howard Center in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland is funded by $3 million from the Scripps Howard Foundation. It honors Roy W. Howard, one of the newspaper world’s pioneers.

Pandemic has taken a bite out of seafood trade, consumption

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the U.S. seafood industry due to a precipitous fall in imports and exports and a drop in catch of some species.Those are the findings of a group of scientists who sought to quantify the damage of the pandemic on America's seafood business, which has also suffered in part because of its reliance on restaurant sales. Consumer demand for seafood at restaurants dropped by more than 70% during the early months of the pandemic, according to the scientists, who published their findings recently in the scientific journal Fish and Fisheries.Imports fell about 37% and exports about 43% over the first nine months of the year compared to 2019, the study said. The economic impact has been felt most severely in states that rely heavily on the seafood sector, such as Maine, Alaska and Louisiana, said Easton White, a University of Vermont biologist and the study's lead author.It hasn't all been doom and gloom for the industry, as seafood delivery and home cooking have helped businesses weather the pandemic, White said. The industry will be in a better position to rebound after the pandemic if domestic consumers take more of an interest in fresh seafood, he said.“Shifting to these local markets is something that could be really helpful for recovery purposes,” White said. “The way forward is to focus on shortening the supply chain a little bit.”The study found that Alaska's catch of halibut, a high-value fish, declined by 40% compared to the previous year through June. Statistics for many U.S. fisheries won't be available until next year, but those findings dovetail with what many fishermen are seeing on the water.Maine's catch of monkfish has dried up because of the lack of access to foreign markets such as Korea, said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association.“The prices just went so low, they couldn't build a business doing that this year,” Martens said.The study confirms what members of the seafood industry have been hearing for months, said Kyle Foley, senior program manager for the seafood program at Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Foley, who was not involved in the study, said the findings make clear that the seafood industry needs more help from the federal government.The federal government allocated $300 million in CARES Act dollars to the seafood industry in May. The government announced $16 billion for farmers and ranchers that same month.“It helps to make the case for why there's a need for more relief, which I think is our industry's biggest concern across the supply chain in seafood,” Foley said.The study concludes that “only time will tell the full extent of COVID-19 on US fishing and seafood industries.” Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Virginia, said the short-term findings reflect the difficulties the industry has experienced this year."The closure of restaurant dinning has had a disproportionate effect on seafood and a pivot to retail has not made up for all of the lost sales," Gibbons said.

China in final preparations for latest lunar mission

WENCHANG, China (AP) — Chinese technicians were making final preparations Monday for a mission to bring back material from the moon's surface in what would be a major advance for the country’s space program. Chang’e 5 is China's most ambitious lunar mission yet and marks the first time in four decades that any country has sought to bring rocks and debris from the moon to Earth. That could boost human understanding of the moon, its age and resources, and of the solar system more generally.The four modules of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft are expected be sent into space Tuesday aboard a massive Long March-5 rocket from the Wenchang launch center along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan, according to a NASA description of the mission. The secretive Chinese National Space Administration has only said that a launch is scheduled for late November.The mission's key task is to drill 2 meters (almost 7 feet) beneath the moon's surface and scoop up about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and other debris to be brought back to Earth, according to NASA. That would the first opportunity scientists have had to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s.The mission is “indeed challenging," but China has already landed twice on the moon with its Chang'e 3 and Chang'e 4 missions, and showed with a 2014 Chang'e 5 test mission that it can navigate back to Earth, re-enter and land a capsule, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. All that's left is to show it can collect samples and take off again from the moon, McDowell said.“As a result of this, I’m pretty optimistic that China can pull this off," he said. Such experience is growing in value with more and more countries conducting asteroid sample returns and considering Mars sample returns, McDowell said. After making the three-day trip from Earth, the Chang’e 5 lander’s time on the moon is scheduled to be short and sweet. It can only stay one lunar daytime, or about 14 days, because it lacks the radioisotope heating units that China’s current lunar rover, the Chang’e 4, possesses to withstand the moon’s freezing nights. Launched as a single space craft, Chang'e 5 is actually composed of a lander, ascender, service module and return capsule. The lander will dig for materials with its drill and robotic arm and transfer them to the ascender, which will lift off from the moon and dock with the service capsule. The materials will then be moved to the return capsule for the trip home to earth. The technical complexity of Chang'e 5, with its four components, makes it “remarkable in many ways," said Joan Johnson-Freese, a space expert at the U.S. Naval War College. If successful, it could be a blueprint for a Mars sample return or even a crewed lunar mission, Johnson-Freese said.“China is showing itself capable of developing and successfully carrying out sustained high-tech programs, important for regional influence and potentially global partnerships," she said. The mission, named for the Chinese moon goddess Chang'e, is among China’s boldest since it first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third nation to do so after the U.S. and Russia.While many of China's crewed spaceflight achievements, including building an experimental space station and conducting a space walk, reproduce those of other countries from years past, the CNSA is now moving into new territory. Chang’e 4 —the first soft landing on the moon’s relatively unexplored far side — is providing full measurements of radiation exposure from the lunar surface, information vital for any country that plans to send astronauts to the moon.China in July became one of three countries to have launched a mission to Mars, in China's case an orbiter and a rover that will search for signs of water on the red planet. The CNSA says the spacecraft Tianwen 1 is on course to arrive at Mars around February. China has increasingly engaged with foreign countries on missions, and the European Space Agency will be providing important ground station information for Chang'e 5. U.S. law however still prevents most collaborations with NASA, excluding China from partnering with the International Space Station. That has prompted China to start work on its own space station and launch its own programs that have put it in a steady competition with Japan and India among Asian nations seeking to notch new achievements in space.China's space program has progressed cautiously, with relatively few setbacks in recent years. The Long March-5 rocket, nicknamed “Fat 5” because of its bulky shape, failed on a previous launch attempt, but has since performed without a glitch, including launching Chang'e 4. “China works very incrementally, developing building blocks for long-term use for a variety of missions," Freese-Johnson said. China's one-party authoritarian system also allows for “prolonged political will that is often difficult in democracies," she said.While the U.S. has followed China's successes closely, it's unlikely to engage China in space amid political suspicions, a sharpening military rivalry and accusations of Chinese theft of technology, experts say. “A change in U.S. policy regarding space cooperation is unlikely to get much government attention in the near future," Johnson-Freese said.

For rookie Thanksgiving cooks, expert tips to avoid disaster

NEW YORK (AP) — After Christopher Hughey tweeted that he’s tackling his first Thanksgiving turkey this year, the advice started rolling in.Brine it. Don't bother. Try “spatchcocking” -- grilling the bird split open. Remember to turn on the oven, and expect that something will burn.“One extreme is that it’s going to be dry, and inedible and gross,” said the Charlotte, North Carolina, resident, who already doesn't like cooking poultry because of fears he’ll undercook it and sicken people. “The other extreme is that we’ll all wind up in urgent care.”With health officials urging Americans to stay home or limit Thanksgiving gatherings, food experts say rookie cooks nervous about attempting their first Turkey Day spreads can avoid disaster and keep everyone healthy by following a few basic tips.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also offering advice on how to prevent coronavirus infections while celebrating, including eating outside if possible, limiting traffic in the kitchen and just have one person serve the food.As for the meal itself, experts say to get started well before the big day. A common mistake: Failing to plan so all the dishes can be ready in time. That includes leaving enough time for frozen turkeys to defrost in the fridge, where temperatures are cold enough to prevent bacteria from multiplying. Since it takes a day of thawing for every 4 to 5 pounds, that could add up to several days depending on the turkey's size. Otherwise, sticking a frozen turkey in the oven could result in a bird that looks nicely browned, but is still cold inside.“You’ll basically have a turkey popsicle that maybe looks good, but it’s not going to be cooked,” said Frank Proto at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.Once the bird is thawed, experts say to resist any instincts to rinse it before cooking, which could end up splattering germs around. Thoroughly cooking should kill any germs on the turkey.Making sure the bird is properly cooked -- it should be 165 degrees at the thickest part -- also means using a meat thermometer. Contrary to the advice many offered to Hughey, experts aren't fans of the pop-up thermometers that come stuck in some birds.“Those are not always effective in determining the temperature,” said Angela Shaw, a specialist at the Iowa State University's food safety extension.Though there’s debate about it, Shaw also recommends cooking the stuffing outside the turkey. Otherwise, she said it could pick up bacteria from the bird. Getting the stuffing hot enough to kill any germs could mean burning or drying out the turkey, she said.Temperature control can be a problem even after everyone is done eating; experts say to refrigerate leftovers within two hours, since bacteria can grow quickly on food that's left out.A dry, overcooked bird is the main worry for Celeste Molina, who’s staying home with her partner and their roommates instead of spending it with family because of the pandemic. Molina, who works at a screen printing firm in Portland, Oregon, knows how badly first attempts can go; years ago, her aunt ended up burning the Thanksgiving bird.“We got to her house and she’s like, ‘I’m just going to order you guys McDonald’s,'" she said.Molina isn’t worried about her first turkey, but just in case, she and her partner plan to buy a chicken to roast alongside it.Lori DeSanti, a real estate agent in Meriden, Connecticut, will also be making turkey with her husband for the first time, instead of going to her dad’s or relative’s home.DeSanti isn’t that concerned about the turkey – she’s never been a huge fan – and is focusing on pulling off a stuffing recipe.“That’s what I’m more worried about ruining,” she said.Advance planning could be important for another reason this year: Making sure you can get the right size bird, since gatherings are expected to be smaller. In suburban Detroit, Robyn Dwoskin plans to get a turkey breast instead of a whole bird for her first attempt at a Thanksgiving spread, since it will just be her husband, their daughters and her mom. She's cooked turkey breasts in her slow cooker before, but hasn't yet figured out what she'll do for Thanksgiving.“I’m still in denial that I’m actually making Thanksgiving this year,” said Dwoskin, who owns a social media engagement company.Back in North Carolina, Hughey is rethinking his game plan for the dinner he's cooking for his ex-wife and sons.“Honestly, I hate to say this. I’m thinking about cheating,” said Hughey, who owns a health care technology company. “I’m thinking my next stop is this place that does a fully cooked turkey.”___The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.