Daily briefing: Earth’s atmosphere rings like a bell


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The western hemisphere of the Blue Marble, created in 2002.

Scientists have spotted resonant waves travelling around the globe.NASA’s Earth Observatory

Scientists have confirmed a 200-year-old hypothesis that Earth’s entire atmosphere vibrates like a giant bell. Using data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts to examine atmospheric pressure worldwide on an hourly basis from 1979 to 2016, they showed that the vibrations produce waves travelling in both directions around the globe. This creates a ‘checkerboard’ pattern of high and low pressure that matches theoretical predictions from the early 1800s. The findings are “a beautiful example of fundamental theory confirmed in observations – something not very common in a complex system like the Earth’s atmosphere”, says climate scientist Ted Shepherd.

Physics World | 6 min read

Notable quotable

Mathematical epidemiologist Nina Fefferman says that we can learn from how hygiene, quarantine and social-distancing measures halted a typhus outbreak in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War, as we craft public-health responses to COVID-19. (Scientific American | 6 min read)

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Salim Abdool Karim, wearing a white coat and holding a megaphone, leads a crowd of demonstrators in Durban, South Africa

Salim Abdool Karim (pictured with megaphone) was one of the organizers of the March for Science in Durban, April 2018.Credit: Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty

Fighting the pandemic in South Africa

Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and chair of the scientific advisory committee at South Africa’s health ministry, reveals in this Q&A how the country hopes to tackle a surge in coronavirus cases. A veteran of the AIDS crisis, Karim shares his hopes and fears, and why he thinks South Africa’s ubuntu tradition — of communities looking out for each other — is key to the country’s response.

Nature | 7 min read

Bat virologist Shi Zhengli speaks out

Shi Zhengli’s group at the Wuhan Institute of Virology has long been at the centre of conspiracy theories about the origins of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In a rare interview, Zhengli — who has spent more than 15 years studying bat coronaviruses — addresses speculation that the virus could have been created in the institute. “Scientists from around the world have overwhelmingly concluded that SARS-CoV-2 originated naturally rather than from any institution,” she says. “US President Trump’s claim that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from our institute totally contradicts the facts. It jeopardizes and affects our academic work and personal life. He owes us an apology.”

Science | 10 min read

Features & opinion

A popular theory about the origin of language is that it began with gestures, rather than speech. Before children can talk, they learn to point, nod and wave. Could the development of language in our ancestors have followed the same sequence? Cognitive scientist Kensy Cooperrider explores the gesture-first and speech-first origins of language, and explains why the ‘hardest problem in science’ could be one of the most tantalizing.

Aeon | 16 min read

In a new book, mathematician Eugenia Cheng applies her branch of pure maths — category theory — to the under-representation of women and other groups in science. In x+y, she argues that, instead of trying solely to recruit women or minority groups into hostile environments, we should train researchers to create an inclusive system by encouraging behaviour that is ‘congressive’ — collaborative, emphasizing community and interdependence.

Nature | 5 min read

Quote of the day

Organic chemist Janine Cossy says setbacks are an important part of any scientist’s training. (Chemistry World | 5 min read)

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