Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Southern Hemisphere


Recent evidence suggests that changes in atmospheric circulation have altered the probability of extreme climate events in the Northern Hemisphere. We investigate northeastern Pacific atmospheric circulation patterns that have historically (1949-2015) been associated with cool-season (October-May) precipitation and temperature extremes in California. We identify changes in occurrence of atmospheric circulation patterns by measuring the similarity of the cool-season atmospheric configuration that occurred in each year of the 1949-2015 period with the configuration that occurred during each of the five driest, wettest, warmest, and coolest years. Our analysis detects statistically significant changes in the occurrence of atmospheric patterns associated with seasonal precipitation and temperature extremes. We also find a robust increase in the magnitude and subseasonal persistence of the cool-season West Coast ridge, resulting in an amplification of the background state. Changes in both seasonal mean and extreme event configurations appear to be caused by a combination of spatially nonuniform thermal expansion of the atmosphere and reinforcing trends in the pattern of sea level pressure. In particular, both thermal expansion and sea level pressure trends contribute to a notable increase in anomalous northeastern Pacific ridging patterns similar to that observed during the 2012-2015 California drought. Collectively, our empirical findings suggest that the frequency of atmospheric conditions like those during California’s most severely dry and hot years has increased in recent decades, but not necessarily at the expense of patterns associated with extremely wet years.

Concepts: Southern Hemisphere, Northern Hemisphere, Precipitation, Weather, Atmospheric pressure, Atmosphere, Earth, Climate


In the Northern Hemisphere, springtime events are frequently reported as advancing more rapidly at higher latitudes, presumably due to an acceleration of warming with latitude. However, this assumption has not been investigated in an analytical framework that simultaneously examines acceleration of warming with latitude while accounting for variation in phenological time series characteristics that might also co-vary with latitude. We analyzed 743 phenological trend estimates spanning 86 years and 42.6 degrees of latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as rates of Northern Hemisphere warming over the same period and latitudinal range. We detected significant patterns of co-variation in phenological time series characteristics that may confound estimates of the magnitude of variation in trends with latitude. Notably, shorter and more recent time series tended to produce the strongest phenological trends, and these also tended to be from higher latitude studies. However, accounting for such variation only slightly modified the relationship between rates of phenological advance and latitude, which was highly significant. Furthermore, warming has increased non-linearly with latitude over the past several decades, most strongly since 1998 and northward of 59°N latitude. The acceleration of warming with latitude has likely contributed to an acceleration of phenological advance along the same gradient.

Concepts: Southern Hemisphere, Tropic of Cancer, Climate, Equator


During May 21-September 23, 2017,* the United States experienced low-level seasonal influenza virus activity; however, beginning in early September, CDC received reports of a small number of localized influenza outbreaks caused by influenza A(H3N2) viruses. In addition to influenza A(H3N2) viruses, influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 and influenza B viruses were detected during May-September worldwide and in the United States. Influenza B viruses predominated in the United States from late May through late June, and influenza A viruses predominated beginning in early July. The majority of the influenza viruses collected and received from the United States and other countries during that time have been characterized genetically or antigenically as being similar to the 2017 Southern Hemisphere and 2017-18 Northern Hemisphere cell-grown vaccine reference viruses; however, a smaller proportion of the circulating A(H3N2) viruses showed similarity to the egg-grown A(H3N2) vaccine reference virus which represents the A(H3N2) viruses used for the majority of vaccine production in the United States. Also, during May 21-September 23, 2017, CDC confirmed a total of 33 influenza variant virus(†) infections; two were influenza A(H1N2) variant (H1N2v) viruses (Ohio) and 31 were influenza A(H3N2) variant (H3N2v) viruses (Delaware [1], Maryland [13], North Dakota [1], Pennsylvania [1], and Ohio [15]). An additional 18 specimens from Maryland have tested presumptive positive for H3v and further analysis is being conducted at CDC.

Concepts: Southern Hemisphere, Virus, U.S. state, Season, Orthomyxoviridae, Pacific Ocean, United States, Influenza


There are 52,380 cases of leukemia and 24,090 deaths from it in the US annually. Its causes are unknown and no preventive strategies have been implemented. We hypothesized that leukemia is due mainly to vitamin D deficiency, which is due mainly to low solar ultraviolet B (UVB) irradiance. To test this hypothesis, we estimated age-standardized cloud-cover-adjusted winter UVB irradiance using cloud cover data from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project, latitudes of population centroids, and standard astronomical calculations. Incidence rates for 172 countries, available from the International Agency for Cancer Research, were plotted according to cloud-adjusted UVB irradiance. We used multiple regression to account for national differences in elevation and average life expectancy. Leukemia incidence rates were inversely associated with cloud-adjusted UVB irradiance in males (p ≤ 0.01) and females (p ≤ 0.01) in both hemispheres. There were few departures from the trend line, which was parabolic when plotted with the equator at the center of the display, northern hemisphere countries on the right side and southern hemisphere countries on the left. The bivariate association displayed by the polynomial trend line indicated that populations at higher latitudes had at least two times the risk of leukemia compared to equatorial populations. The association persisted in males (p ≤ 0.05) and females (p ≤ 0.01) after controlling for elevation and life expectancy. Incidence rates of leukemia were inversely associated with solar UVB irradiance. It is plausible that the association is due to vitamin D deficiency. This would be consistent with laboratory studies and a previous epidemiological study. Consideration should be given to prudent use of vitamin D for prevention of leukemia.

Concepts: Ultraviolet, Sun, Life expectancy, Southern Hemisphere, Vitamin D, Northern Hemisphere, Cancer, Equator


Southern-Hemisphere terrestrial communities from the early Paleocene are poorly known, but recent work on Danian plant fossils from the Salamanca Formation in Chubut Province, Argentina are providing critical data on earliest Paleocene floras. The fossils described here come from a site in the Salamanca Formation dating to ca. 1 million years or less after the end-Cretaceous extinction event; they are the first fossil flowers reported from the Danian of South America, and possible the entire Southern Hemisphere. They are compressions and impressions in flat-laminated light gray shale, and they belong to the family Rhamnaceae (buckthorns). Flowers of Notiantha grandensis gen. et sp. nov. are pentamerous, with distinctly keeled calyx lobes projecting from the hypanthium, clawed and cucullate emarginate petals, antepetalous stamens, and a pentagonal floral disk that fills the hypanthium. Their phylogenetic position was evaluated using a molecular scaffold approach combined with morphological data. Results indicate that the flowers are most like those of extant ziziphoid Rhamnaceae. The associated leaves, assigned to Suessenia grandensis gen. et sp. nov. are simple and ovate, with serrate margins and three acrodromous basal veins. They conform to the distinctive leaves of some extant Rhamnaceae in the ziziphoid and ampelozizyphoid clades. These fossils provide the first unequivocal megafossil evidence of Rhamnaceae in the Southern Hemisphere, demonstrating that Rhamnaceae expanded beyond the tropics by the earliest Paleocene. Given previous reports of rhamnaceous pollen in the late Paleogene and Neogene of Antarctica and southern Australia, this new occurrence increases the possibility of high-latitude dispersal of this family between South America and Australia via Antarctica during the Cenozoic.

Concepts: Pollen, Plant morphology, Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica, Pacific Ocean, Dinosaur, Flower, South America


During the 2015-16 influenza season (October 4, 2015-May 21, 2016) in the United States, influenza activity* was lower and peaked later compared with the previous three seasons (2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15). Activity remained low from October 2015 until late December 2015 and peaked in mid-March 2016. During the most recent 18 influenza seasons (including this season), only two other seasons have peaked in March (2011-12 and 2005-06). Overall influenza activity was moderate this season, with a lower percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI),(†) lower hospitalization rates, and a lower percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) compared with the preceding three seasons. Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses predominated overall, but influenza A(H3N2) viruses were more commonly identified from October to early December, and influenza B viruses were more commonly identified from mid-April through mid-May. The majority of viruses characterized this season were antigenically similar to the reference viruses representing the recommended components of the 2015-16 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine (1). This report summarizes influenza activity in the United States during the 2015-16 influenza season (October 4, 2015-May 21, 2016)(§) and reports the vaccine virus components recommended for the 2016-17 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccines.

Concepts: Northern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere, Season, Pneumonia, Vaccination, Influenza vaccine, Vaccine, Influenza


In the past three decades, Echinococcus multilocularis, the cause of human alveolar echinococcosis, has been reported in several new countries both in definitive hosts (canids) as well as in people. Unless treated, infection with this cestode in people is fatal. In previously endemic countries throughout the Northern Hemisphere, geographic ranges and human and animal prevalence levels seem to be increasing. Anthropogenic influences, including increased globalisation of animals and animal products, and altered human/animal interfaces are thought to play a vital role in the global emergence of this pathogenic cestode. Molecular epidemiological techniques are a useful tool for detecting and tracing introductions, and differentiating these from range expansions.

Concepts: Southern Hemisphere, Free will, Determinism, Epidemiology, Infectious disease, Cestoda, Echinococcus multilocularis, Disease


A unique feature of Pluto’s large satellite Charon is its dark red northern polar cap. Similar colours on Pluto’s surface have been attributed to tholin-like organic macromolecules produced by energetic radiation processing of hydrocarbons. The polar location on Charon implicates the temperature extremes that result from Charon’s high obliquity and long seasons in the production of this material. The escape of Pluto’s atmosphere provides a potential feedstock for a complex chemistry. Gas from Pluto that is transiently cold-trapped and processed at Charon’s winter pole was proposed as an explanation for the dark coloration on the basis of an image of Charon’s northern hemisphere, but not modelled quantitatively. Here we report images of the southern hemisphere illuminated by Pluto-shine and also images taken during the approach phase that show the northern polar cap over a range of longitudes. We model the surface thermal environment on Charon and the supply and temporary cold-trapping of material escaping from Pluto, as well as the photolytic processing of this material into more complex and less volatile molecules while cold-trapped. The model results are consistent with the proposed mechanism for producing the observed colour pattern on Charon.

Concepts: Pacific Ocean, Equator, Color, Northern Hemisphere, Climate, Southern Hemisphere, Earth, Season


Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) annually undertake the longest migrations between seasonal feeding and breeding grounds of any mammal. Despite this dispersal potential, discontinuous seasonal distributions and migratory patterns suggest that humpbacks form discrete regional populations within each ocean. To better understand the worldwide population history of humpbacks, and the interplay of this species with the oceanic environment through geological time, we assembled mitochondrial DNA control region sequences representing approximately 2700 individuals (465 bp, 219 haplotypes) and eight nuclear intronic sequences representing approximately 70 individuals (3700 bp, 140 alleles) from the North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere. Bayesian divergence time reconstructions date the origin of humpback mtDNA lineages to the Pleistocene (880 ka, 95% posterior intervals 550-1320 ka) and estimate radiation of current Northern Hemisphere lineages between 50 and 200 ka, indicating colonization of the northern oceans prior to the Last Glacial Maximum. Coalescent analyses reveal restricted gene flow between ocean basins, with long-term migration rates (individual migrants per generation) of less than 3.3 for mtDNA and less than 2 for nuclear genomic DNA. Genetic evidence suggests that humpbacks in the North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere are on independent evolutionary trajectories, supporting taxonomic revision of M. novaeangliae to three subspecies.

Concepts: Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica, Whale, Earth, Atlantic Ocean, Equator, Humpback whale, Pacific Ocean


While climate warming reduces the occurrence of frost events, the warming-induced lengthening of the growing season of plants in the Northern Hemisphere may actually induce more frequent frost days during the growing season (GSFDs, days with minimum temperature < 0 °C). Direct evidence of this hypothesis, however, is limited. Here we investigate the change in the number of GSFDs at latitudes greater than 30° N using remotely-sensed and in situ phenological records and three minimum temperature (Tmin) data sets from 1982 to 2012. While decreased GSFDs are found in northern Siberia, the Tibetan Plateau, and northwestern North America (mainly in autumn), ~43% of the hemisphere, especially in Europe, experienced a significant increase in GSFDs between 1982 and 2012 (mainly during spring). Overall, regions with larger increases in growing season length exhibit larger increases in GSFDs. Climate warming thus reduces the total number of frost days per year, but GSFDs nonetheless increase in many areas.

Concepts: Tropic of Cancer, Earth, Southern Hemisphere, South America, Equator, Northern Hemisphere, Season, Climate