The fear and uncertainty accompanying the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic have overshadowed much of 2020.
Yet, considering the score of discoveries, solved mysteries, and natural disasters our Earth has seen, the pandemic is certainly not the only thing 2020 will be remembered for.
Let’s take a closer look at this year’s notable news in Youngzine’s Our Earth section.
Fascinating Discoveries and Mysteries Solved!
The year began with scientists debunking a mystery sound that some had labeled as alien technology. It turned out that the strange humming sound was from an underwater volcano, following an earthquake on the volcanic island of Mayotte in November 2018!
Way up near the North Pole, in Finland, amateur stargazers discovered a new kind of aurora, which they dubbed “Dunes”, after its sand-dune-like appearance. Auroras, also known as northern lights, are formed when the Sun’s charged particles meet the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere.
Zooming down to Australia, researchers found evidence that prehistoric Earth may have been covered in water, while entomologists discovered seven species of peacock spiders, teeny-tiny arachnids perhaps far cuter than you think!
On land, scientists discovered that larches, a type of conifer tree, absorb the most noise. In the Caribbean, ecologists found a great example of natural selection -- anole lizards had evolved larger and stickier toe pads in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria! And to the east, in China, researchers discovered the mystery of one particularly gross behavior of pandas who were observed to be slathering themselves in horse dung.
In the deep, deep sea, scientists found that Humboldt squids communicate with one another using their bioluminescent organs, or their personal glowing spotlights.
Threatened Animal Species
Earth’s amazing biodiversity has seen many upsets this year. In May 2019, Botswana, a country in southwest Africa, lifted the ban on elephant hunting, threatening its already endangered African elephant population. And a study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) revealed that from 1970 to 2016, the Earth lost 68% of its vertebrate wildlife.
There was some uplifting news as well. Researchers studying tadpoles in Vietnam have since successfully identified six species of frogs, a huge step forward for conservation efforts. And with the hard work of conservationists in the UK and Myanmar, the adorable red squirrels and “smiling” turtles are returning to their natural habitats. In the US, Coloradoans voted to reintroduce gray wolves (Canis lupus) into their state’s forests and mountain ranges.
And as a reminder of the importance of conservation efforts, in Indonesia, a rare Javan rhino was caught on camera. Just 72 Javan rhinos remain today, living in Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park.
In March, the United Nations (UN) published a report revealing climate change's sobering impact. The decade 2010-2019 was the warmest on record, and rising global temperatures had serious consequences for the Earth.
As the Earth warms, sea ice in the Arctic Ocean hit a record low, while glaciers in the majestic Himalayas have receded, allowing plant-life to spread and affecting ecosystems.
Higher temperatures have also spurred the growth of aquatic algae and cyanobacteria, which proved to be culprits in the mysterious deaths of nearly 350 Botswanan elephants. At the same time, carbon emissions have led to higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. While temporarily beneficial to young trees, this has accompanied the decline of historic forests.
Climate change has also made extreme weather events more common. 2020 has seen a whopping 28 serious storms, including Cyclone Amphan, Typhoon Goni, and Hurricane Eta, which devastated neighborhoods and complicated efforts against the pandemic.
Besides being drenched in rain and whipped by winds, the Earth has also been scorched by blazing wildfires. In July, the Russian Siberia, known for its icy cold temperatures, had more than 23,000 square kilometers engulfed by flame, while infernos in South America’s iconic Amazon region reached a 13-year high. And in September, the skies on the U.S. West Coast turned an eerie, alien orange, as wildfires ravaged California, Oregon, and Washington State. In the aftermath of the wildfires, people lost their homes, wildlife suffered, and local economies dived.
Steps Towards a Better Future
Amidst all the distressing news this year, there’s still hope for a better future. Scientists have discovered a way to boost corals' heat-tolerance and developed technologies such as SmartFish H2020 to promote sustainable fishing.
At the government level, California and China have pledged to combat climate change. California aims to end the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035, while China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, set a goal to reach peak carbon emissions before 2030, and be completely carbon-neutral by 2060.
And even the global COVID-19 pandemic lends hope for the environment. As countries go into lockdown, halting widespread transportation, carbon emissions, and seismic vibrations have seen reductions, while nature and wildlife are returning to cities.
Though we face down a global health crisis, we should remember human resilience, and strive to keep safe, healthy, and optimistic.