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Russian Land of Permafrost and Mammoths Is Thawing

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YAKUTSK, Russia — The lab assistant reached into the freezer and lifted out a football-size object in a tattered plastic grocery bag, unwrapping its muddy covering and placing it on a wooden table. It was the severed head of a wolf.

The animal, with bared teeth and mottled fur, appeared ready to lunge. But it had been glowering for some 32,000 years — preserved in the permafrost, 65 feet underground in Yakutia in northeastern Siberia.

As the Arctic, including much of Siberia, warms at least twice as fast as the rest of the world, the permafrost — permanently frozen ground — is thawing. Oddities like the wolf’s head have been emerging more frequently in a land already known for spitting out frozen woolly mammoths whole.

The thawing of the permafrost — along with other changes triggered by global warming — is reshaping this incredibly remote region sometimes called the Kingdom of Winter. It is one of the coldest inhabited places on earth, and huge; Yakutia, if independent, would be the world’s eighth largest country.

The loss of permafrost deforms the landscape itself, knocking down houses and barns. The migration patterns of animals hunted for centuries are shifting, and severe floods wreak havoc almost every spring.

The water, washing out already limited dirt roads and rolling corpses from their graves, threatens entire villages with permanent inundation. Waves chew away the less frozen Arctic coastline.

Indigenous peoples are more threatened than ever. Residents joust constantly with nature in unpredictable ways, leaving them feeling baffled, unsettled, helpless, depressed and irritated.

“Everything is changing, people are trying to figure out how to adapt,” said Afanasiy V. Kudrin, 63, a farmer in Nalimsk, a village of 525 people above the Arctic Circle. “We need the cold to come back, but it just gets warmer and warmer and warmer.”

Climate change is a global phenomenon, but the shifts are especially pronounced in Russia, where permafrost covers some two-thirds of the country at depths ranging up to almost a mile.

“People don’t comprehend the scale of this change, and our government is not even thinking about it,” said Aleksandr N. Fedorov, deputy director of the Melnikov Permafrost Institute, a research body in Yakutsk, the regional capital.

In Yakutia, almost 20 percent of Russia, distances are vast and transportation erratic. The population is just under one million. Natives joke that every resident could claim one lake.

Yakutia’s 33 districts are the size of countries. In the far northeast, the Srednekolymsk district, which lies entirely above the Arctic Circle, is slightly smaller than Greece. Just 8,000 residents live in 10 villages, including 3,500 in the capital, also Srednekolymsk.

The region has been a synonym for remote for centuries. Empress Elizabeth exiled the first prominent political prisoner to Srednekolymsk in 1744, when it took a year to reach overland from St. Petersburg. There are just two main highways transiting Yakutia, with the one built mostly by Gulag prisoners under Communism still largely unpaved.

In Srednekolymsk, summer used to last from June 1 to Sept. 1, but now extends a couple weeks longer on both ends. Outsiders might not notice that the thermometer in January often hovers around -50 F, rather than -75 F. Residents call -50 “chilly.”

In a regionwide pattern, the average annual temperature in Yakutsk has risen more than four degrees, to 18.5 F from 14 F, over several decades, said Mr. Fedorov of the permafrost institute.

Warmer winters and longer summers are steadily thawing the frozen earth that covers 90 percent of Yakutia. The top layer that thaws in summer and freezes in winter can extend down as far as 10 feet where three feet used to be the maximum.

Eroding cliffs on riverbanks expose other areas, like where the wolf head appeared, that had long been deeply buried.

The thawing permafrost, and increased precipitation, have made the land wetter. The snow and rain create a vicious circle, forming an insulating layer that speeds defrosting underground.

Water backing up behind ice floes now causes ravaging floods virtually every May.

In Srednekolymsk last year, floods swamped the dirt airstrip, with its separate outhouses for men and women. Often battered Soviet turboprops are the lifeline to the world, but the airstrip had to close for a week.

Nalimsk, 11 miles north of Srednekolymsk, has flooded five years in a row. Mosquitoes grown fat in the expanding bogs swarm like kamikaze pilots. “Free acupuncture!” joked Vasily P. Okoneshnikov, 54, the village headman.

Plump black Turpan ducks used to arrive regularly during the first week of June. This year migrating birds began to descend on May 1. There were far fewer Turpans, and suddenly geese, a novelty.

Elsewhere, the migration routes of wild reindeer have shifted, while unfamiliar insects and plants inhabit the woods.

Nalimsk hunters once stored their fish and game in a 22-foot deep cave dug out of the permafrost, a kind of natural freezer. Now its thawing walls drip water, and the meat rots.

“We buy meat and it is no good, too dry,” Mr. Okoneshnikov said. “We have no choice, even if it’s shameful” to shop, rather than hunt.

Farther north, residents refuse to abandon their waterlogged, riverfront villages, afraid of losing access to whitefish, their staple diet.

The village of Beryozovka has flooded virtually every spring for a decade, its 300 residents forced onto boats for weeks to run errands like buying bread. They finally accepted a five-year project to move the village 900 yards uphill.

In the district, Beryozovka has the only concentration of Even people, one of various dwindling indigenous tribes.

The Even, who are reindeer herders, were settled only in 1954 through a government drive. They speak a distinct language; individual clans inherit ancestral songs.

“At some point they talked about abandoning the village, but people did not want to move out,” said Octyabrina R. Novoseltseva, chairwoman of the Northern Indigenous People’s Association in the Srednekolymsk region. “They would lose everything, the culture would all disappear.”

The government in distant Moscow is an abstract concept. Alaska is closer. Villagers throughout Yakutia bemoan relying on their own resources to adapt to climate change.

Even state-run institutions like the permafrost institute lack the means for the complicated field work needed to assess the full extent of permafrost loss. Nor can they gauge other fallout, like how much methane that microbes in the newly thawed ground produce, adding to global warming.

“We do not really monitor the situation, so we just have to see what it brings,” said Yevgeny M. Sleptsov, the head of the Srednekolymsk district, as he piloted a fishing boat along the Kolyma River at 10 p.m. in the muted light of the endless Arctic day.

The government is also unable to do much about other environmental problems, including wildfires surging through millions of acres of remote forest across Yakutia and the rest of Siberia. Reaching them is too costly.

As the permafrost thaws across Yakutia, some land sinks, transforming the terrain into an obstacle course of hummocks and craters — called thermokarst. It can sink further to become swamps, then lakes. From the air, thermokarst looks as if giant warts are plaguing the earth. It makes plowing or grazing on formerly flat fields impossible.

Thermokarsts besiege the Churapcha region, 120 miles east of Yakutsk.

Thirty-three families once inhabited the northern part of Usun-Kyuyol, a village of 750 people. After their cow barns and fences repeatedly collapsed, 10 families decamped. Those remaining feel beleaguered.

To find flat, dry land to grow hay, farmers work further and further away.

Across Yakutia, farmers have replaced tens of thousands of cows with native horses. Horses consume less hay, but produce less milk, and the market for their meat is limited. They also die in droves when their hooves cannot penetrate thicker snow and ice to forage.

Nikolai S. Makarkov, 62, is building a new house. He tired of jacking up his old one after it sank four times so that the doors would not open. Water also seeped underneath, rotting the floorboards and freezing in winter, chilling the interior.

Years ago, the village road ran straight, with log cabins and cow barns arrayed along its length. Now the potholed muddy track meandering among the hummocks barely resembles a road. Abandoned houses tilt at odd angles.

“There might as well have been a war here,” said Mr. Makarkov, whose new house is raised off the ground on pillars sunk 16 feet, where there is still permafrost. “Soon there will be no flat land left in this village. I only have 30-40 years to live, so hopefully my new house will last that long.”

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Why you don’t need a 5G phone just yet

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In this Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019, photo, visitors tour an exhibitor booth with a 5G on display at the Smart China Expo in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality.
Image Credit: AP

No 5G iPhone? No problem. You probably don’t want one anyway.

For most people, it’s smart to stick with a smartphone that isn’t compatible with speedier 5G wireless networks, which are just starting to roll out. That’s the case even if you think you’ll be hanging on to your next phone for a few years.

Not only are the first-generation 5G phones expensive, their antennas and modems typically work only with particular 5G networks owned by specific mobile carriers. That could limit your options if you’re trying to get the faster speeds while roaming overseas or on a rival company’s network – or if you decide to switch providers later.

Experts say second-generation phones in the coming year will address those and other shortcomings. The research firm IDC, calling 2019 “an introductory year at best,” expects 5G phones to make up 9% of worldwide shipments next year and 28% in 2023.

The target market

Samsung, Motorola, LG and OnePlus already make 5G phones that use Google’s Android system. Huawei announced one Thursday, though it’s missing popular Google apps because of a U.S. ban on tech exports to the Chinese company.

Although 5G phones are a niche product, IHS Markit said phone makers haven’t been able to keep up with surprisingly strong demand, especially in South Korea.

Samsung said it has sold 2 million 5G phones worldwide since April and expects to double that by the end of the year. Motorola said it has seen “tremendous engagement and excitement” from customers.

But Motorola said such first-generation products primarily suit early adopters who need to be first on the block.

New iPhones out Friday won’t support 5G. Apple typically waits for technology to mature before adopting it.

The price of 5G

The speedy wireless technology can add a few hundred dollars to phone price tags. For instance, Samsung’s standard Galaxy S10 phone costs $900″ the 5G model costs $1,300, though Samsung said it also showcases the company’s best features, including a larger screen and a better camera. For Motorola, 5G comes as a $350 option for the existing Moto Z series phones.

“This territory is reserved for the leading-edge type of consumer, those willing to sacrifice a bit more money up front to be first,” said Wayne Lam, an analyst at IHS Markit. “Longer term is where the smart money is.”

The price gap is expected to narrow and eventually disappear as 5G becomes a standard feature, Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight said.

Network limitations

Even as phone companies make big claims about revolutionary new applications, 5G coverage is limited to certain neighborhoods in a handful of cities. While 5G phones can still connect over existing 4G LTE networks, “are you willing to spend extra for something you might not see consistently until 2021?” IHS Markit analyst Josh Builta asks.

5G is actually a set of wireless technologies using different parts of the airwaves. Each wireless carrier emphasizes a different flavor of 5G, and each one is selling 5G phones designed specifically for its network.

Wireless networks have a history of Balkanization, although it tends to sort itself out. Verizon and Sprint have been using a wireless technology called CDMA, while AT&T and T-Mobile use an incompatible version called GSM. Early on, phone makers produced separate CDMA and GSM models. But as technology advanced, they were able to pack all the necessary antennas and components into universal phones.

Similar all-in-one 5G phones should be fairly common by next year, experts say.

In fact, T-Mobile CEO John Legere suggested the company is holding back on 5G network expansions until compatible phones come out later this year. T-Mobile’s current 5G phones only work with parts of its planned 5G network. Sprint, which T-Mobile is in the process of acquiring, said first-generation phones are intended to show off 5G benefits to those who live or spend a lot of time in the company’s nine 5G markets.

Verizon didn’t return messages. AT&T isn’t offering 5G to consumers yet, although it has rebranded some existing 4G service as “5G E.”

To wait or not to wait

If you can squeeze another year or two out of your current phone, there will be plenty of 5G phones to choose from – including iPhones – by the time you’re ready to upgrade.

But it’s OK to buy a new, pre-5G phone now if you can’t wait. You can always trade that in for a 5G model later. Even if you stick with 4G, experts say you’ll still see speed bump there as phone companies install new equipment.

And IDC is expecting deals on 4G phones to clear shelves for upcoming 5G models.



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Science special | Heraldrepublican | kpcnews.com

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Ryan Park Elementary School fifth-graders Jaspin Brown, Clara Shamp and Cami Lanman get a hands-on lesson with the Newton Cars Lab, brought to the school Wednesday by Science Central of Fort Wayne. “They reviewed what they have learned this school year about forces, mass and Newton’s three laws of motion,” said teacher Michele Davis. Each group ran two trials each of the “car” with three different masses on board. They measured the distance the car traveled, recorded their data and averaged the distances. Each of the three Ryan Park fifth-grade classes spent 30 minutes in the Learning Lab with the Science Central representatives. The program was fully funded by the Steuben County Community Foundation through a grant.



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Science passes chemistry test in win over Clinton | The Riverdale Press

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By SEAN BRENNAN

The Bronx Science boys soccer team has been a consistent power in the Bronx A Division for years. The Wolverines regularly cop the division crown, make deep runs in the Public School Athletic League playoffs, and have generally been considered the cream of Bronx soccer.

But last year was anything but regular for the Wolverines. Science finished the regular season a pedestrian 5-4-1, placed third in the divisional race behind champion Clinton, and made a one-and-done appearance in the PSAL playoffs where Bryant put an end to its season.

“Last year we had problems with consistency,” said Science junior Tim McCormick. “One game we’d beat a really good team, like when we beat Clinton 4-0 at home. And then the next game we’d lose 2-0 to one of the bottom teams in our division. We could just never find that consistency.”

So after two forfeit wins to open the season, the Wolverines finally made their way onto the field last Friday at Clinton, visiting the defending division champions. It was a litmus test game if ever there was one. And the Wolverines passed with flying colors.

Both McCormick and senior Hoyong Lee scored a pair of goals and Nathan Denham and Felix Reinhart added a score each as the Wolverines announced “we’re back” with a dominating 6-0 road victory.

“This was definitely gratifying,” McCormick said. “This field has given us problems in the past. We lost here the last two years, and they were both very close games. So it was nice to finally get that monkey off our back.”

Science jumped on Clinton when Denham opened the scoring with a goal early in the first half. It was a score that seemed to ignite the Wolverines as Lee padded their lead with two straight goals for a 3-0 advantage. When goals by Reinhart and McCormick built the Science lead to 5-0 at halftime, it certainly looked like the “old” Science team was back.

“We finally got a little rust off after the two forfeits,” Science coach Phil Cancellaro said. “We were a little slow to start, but the chemistry started building in the second part of the first half. We started making better passes and that’s our style. Then the goals started coming after our passes started connecting.”

McCormick’s second goal was the only tally of the second half as Science’s defense took over and kept the Governors in check. It was just one game, but the Wolverines had the look of a team that was using last season’s frustration as a motivation for now.

“When I was a freshman and sophomore, we had really good years,” Lee said. “But last year we had our ups and downs. So after two forfeits, getting a win against Clinton on their home field for the first time in two or three years, felt really good. It was a great way to start off the season.”

It wasn’t lack of talent that cost the Wolverines last season, Cancellaro said. It was intangibles.

“Last year, that was not to our standards,” Cancellaro said. “Our standards are winning a division title. It was a lack of chemistry last year. But this year we corrected that and we’re doing a lot better with the chemistry end of it.”

Cancellaro is not surprised his Wolverines aced their chemistry test against Clinton. Just that they did it in such a dominant fashion.

“I wasn’t expecting 6-0,” Cancellaro said. “I was expecting a much tighter game. But we were super pumped for this game, and we’d been talking about it for a while. This will set the tempo for the rest of the season.”

For Lee, a senior, this will be his final act with the Wolverines, so he hopes this is just the first of many big moments to come.

“We make the playoffs every year and we went pretty far three years ago,” Lee said of the Wolverines’ run to the PSAL quarterfinals in 2016. “But last year we were a first-round exit, and I was really (upset) and sad about it. So that makes me and the other players from last year really hungry this season.”

It was a statement win, for sure, and one Lee thinks could lead to a very special ride for the Wolverines this season.

“We have really good individual talents, so we just have to build up our chemistry and we’ll have a really good chance of winning everything this year,” Lee said. “This win over Clinton was a huge confidence boost for us because they won the division last year. So we’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”





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