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High in the Alps, where it's 'not supposed to melt,' a rare glacial pond has been discovered

It is rare for them to form, nonetheless reach this size.

BRYAN MESTRE INSTAGRAM
  • Climbing instructor discovers a glacial "lake" high in the Alps.
  • A glacial meltwater lake this size is usually a rare occurrence.
  • French glaciologists are concerned that climate change could create more dangerous lakes like these in the future.

In the wake of Europe's unprecedented heatwave, the international community is seeing further glimpses of the many changes which lie ahead for our world climate. Recently, a French mountaineer caught a beautifully striking, albeit disconcerting picture of a glacial lake in the High Alps.

Alpinist Bryan Mestre, took the photographs of the newly materialized lake on June 28th near the base of Dent du Géant Mountain, part of the larger Mont Blanc range that runs through France and Italy. A frequent hiker, Mestre remarked that this was the first time he'd ever seen a lake at this altitude during the summer months.

Hikers and climate scientists alike expect to see some glacial melting during the hottest days of summer. But the creation of an entire lake is a remarkably rare event. And one we might be seeing more of as climate change keeps turning up the heat.

France’s heatwave lake

Europe was in one of the most intense heat waves in recent memory this June. When Mestre discovered the lake on June 28th, France set an all-time record high of 114.6 degrees in the southern Gallargues-le-Montueux region. Record temperatures in the Mont Blanc region topped out at 48.74 degrees.

The Mont Blanc mountains remain covered in snow and ice all year round. The lake that Mestre found was around 9,800 feet above sea level and is also usually covered in ice.

"Needless to say, the lake was a real surprise… It's located in the 3,400 to 3,500-meter (11,155 to 11,483-feet) area. You're supposed to find ice and snow at this altitude, not liquid water. Most of the time when we stay for a day at this altitude, the water in our water bottles starts freezing," Mestre told IFL Science.

Water above the Alp's 3,000 meter line is supposed to stay permanently frozen.

When speaking to the London Evening Standard, Mestre also remarked that:

"I have seen similar events in the Andes or in the Rockies, but the ecosystem is a lot different there. Snow is permanent in the Alps above 3,000 meters — it's not supposed to melt. Of course, with the whole global warming deal, it does melt, but it doesn't get this big."

According to National Geographic France the lake was around 10 meters by 30 meters or (33 feet by 98.5 feet). The lake was holding a couple thousand cubic meters of meltwater.

While this may have been an initial surprise to Mr. Mestre, many French glaciologists are starting to see a concerning trend as a similar lake was discovered in the same place last year.

French glaciologist concerns

Photo credit: JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT / GETTY IMAGES

Christian Vincent, a glaciologist at the Grenoble Glaciology Laboratory, believes that there is a direct link between the formation of this kind of pond and global warming.

Vincent remarks about a similar experience when a pond had formed over by the Rochemelon glacier in the Arc Valley, which sits on the French-Italian border. A lake had sprung up over a number of years, slowly gaining in size:

"At first it was a small pond formed in the 1960s, which grew without anyone perceiving its evolution. It was during a reconnaissance a few years ago that I realized that it contained 650,000 cubic meters of water and that it was threatening to overflow. An alert was then given and an artificial emptying operation had cleared the lake."

Vincent warns that we must be vigilant in tracking and understanding how these glacial "lakes" appear. While there is no immediate threat from the pond Mestre spotted, that doesn't preclude future problems from arising from this area or other ones like it.

"When the volume of these lakes becomes very important, it can become very dangerous if they overflow on the surface. This can threaten downstream structures and homes," says Vincent.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Lee Jae-Sung of Korea Republic lies on the pitch holding his knee during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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