News at a glance: Earth science satellites, Global Fund's haul, and Neptune's rings – Science

The European Space Agency (ESA) last week approved the $420 million Harmony mission as the next in its Earth Explorer line of science missions, following a competition. Harmony’s two satellites will carry infrared sensors and radar receivers to observe the turbulent waves, winds, and eddies that govern the interchange of heat and gases between the oceans and atmosphere. Scientists know oceans soak up more than 90% of the excess heat of global warming, but they need Harmony’s finer scale observations to explain how—and to calibrate climate models that predict the evolution of these dynamics decades ahead. “We want to study how the oceans and the atmosphere are talking to each other,” says principal investigator Paco López-Dekker, a remote sensing scientist at the Delft University of Technology. After launch in 2029, the Harmony satellites will fly in formation with one of ESA’s Sentinel-1 radar satellites, to be launched in 2025, while capturing its reflected beams at different angles. The mission will also be able to monitor 3D ground motions as small as 1 millimeter a year—of interest to scientists monitoring glacial ice loss, volcanic eruptions, and the seismic strain that leads to earthquakes.
Scientists in Puerto Rico say they lost vital refrigerated samples and face delayed and ruined studies after Hurricane Fiona knocked out power across the island last week. The disruption continued this week, and authorities predict it may take workers weeks to restore a sustained power supply. Some researchers have transferred samples to other locations powered by generators. Ileana Rodríguez-Velez, a chemist at the University of Puerto Rico, Humacao, moved some still-viable samples of plants she is studying for their anticancer and antimicrobial activity to refrigerators at her and her mother’s houses. Many researchers also endured outages when Hurricane Marèa devastated the island in 2017. The restoration of the power grid has proceeded slowly, and after Fiona struck, some generators installed by researchers failed or lack enough fuel to operate reliably.
Eighteen months after vaccine specialist Rick Bright took the helm of a new institute with ambitious plans to help thwart future pandemics, he has left the job, and the young organization has been folded into the larger mission of its funder, the Rockefeller Foundation. During the administration of former President Donald Trump, Bright led a major U.S. funding agency that supports R&D for products to combat pandemics, but resigned from that job because of disagreements over the administration’s COVID-19 response. Questioned about Bright’s departure from the Pandemic Prevention Institute, a foundation spokesperson says, “The landscape has changed significantly” since its launch, “as there are now many different initiatives focused on creating a pandemic-free future.” These include ones led by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rockefeller had pledged to invest $150 million over 3 years to support outside scientific efforts that do pathogen surveillance and establish a network to share data more efficiently. Bright says Rockefeller was pivoting to focus more on climate change. “I know their leadership and support in this area will make a huge impact,” he says.
High- and low-income countries alike last week joined in pledging $14.25 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, in the largest single fundraising push for global health. Supporters said the sum was necessary to help reverse setbacks in combating those diseases caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, although the amount fell short of the Global Fund’s goal of $18 billion. The pledged amount may increase if Italy and the United Kingdom make contributions; changes this month in their governments delayed expected commitments. Many of the 45 countries that did pledge money, including low-income nations in Africa, upped their pledges by 30% or more despite inflation and other economic pressures. If achieved, the $18 billion could save 20 million lives and avoid 450 million new infections, the Global Fund estimates. The United States made the single largest commitment, up to $6 billion, but Congress must approve the money. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made the largest private pledge, $912 million.
Up to one-third of authors named on a large sample of scientific journal articles are “honorary” because they did not fulfill criteria for being listed as authors, a study has found. Some 1% of the authors provided only funding or other resources for the project, contributions that would not qualify a researcher for authorship under two standard definitions. The study, presented this month at the International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication, examined more than 629,000 authors on 82,000 papers published in the PLOS family of journals from 2017 to 2021. It was unusual because it examined standardized statements, submitted by corresponding authors, that described each author’s contribution. Previous studies have estimated the frequency of honorary authorship based on self-reports by scientists on surveys.
Cell Press this month adopted a new method of peer review under which scientists may submit a single manuscript for simultaneous consideration by up to 20 of its life and medical science journals. The Community Review program, the first of its kind by a large commercial publisher of high-profile journals, is intended to reduce the effort spent by authors and reviewers when papers rejected by one journal are resubmitted to others. In a trial of the new approach, editors identified which journals could be a match for a paper; the author could then choose to advance the manuscript to peer review or to withdraw it and submit it to a non–Cell Press journal. Authors withdrew some 40% of papers, apparently because they hoped for publication in a more elite Cell Press journal, said Cell Press’s Sejal Vyas this month at the International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication. Overall, the shares of manuscripts advancing to peer review (33%) and accepted for publication (21%) were comparable to those of regular submissions to Cell Press’s individual journals.
U.S. SCIENCE ADVISERThe U.S. Senate voted 56-40 to confirm Arati Prabhakar to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Prabhakar, an applied physicist and former venture capitalist, will succeed Eric Lander, who resigned as the office’s head in February after admitting he created a hostile work environment. She will also be the president’s new science adviser, replacing Francis Collins, who had been acting in that role since Lander’s departure. Prabhakar led the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from 2013 to 2017.
EBOLA OUTBREAKUganda is battling an outbreak of the Sudan ebolavirus, one of six members of the genus Ebolavirus. The country declared an outbreak on 20 September and has since reported at least 36 confirmed or suspected cases, including 23 deaths. Two licensed Ebola vaccines exist, but neither one has been approved for use against the Sudan ebolavirus. Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared on 27 September that its latest Ebola outbreak—a single infection with the Zaire ebolavirus confirmed on 22 August—has ended.
U.K. FRACKINGThe U.K. government lifted a 2019 moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract natural gas in England. A report last week by the British Geological Survey concluded that forecasting the small earthquakes triggered by fracking remains a challenge; it recommended drilling more test wells to obtain data.
GREENHOUSE GAS TREATYThe U.S. Senate ratified the 2016 Kigali Amendment, joining 137 other countries in an effort to slash the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, a class of potent greenhouse gases. Congress previously mandated reductions, and U.S. companies have begun to switch to alternatives. But the vote had symbolic importance as the first international climate treaty ratified by U.S. lawmakers since 1992.
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