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Arctic Plankton Use the Moon to Navigate in Dark Winters

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In September, a group of scientists led by Jørgen Berge of the Arctic University of Norway uncovered a startling amount of action beneath the surface of the dark waters of the Arctic Ocean. Even during winter—a season without sunshine or warmth—plankton, crustaceans, and fish were going about their lives in the area studied.

Now, a new study by some of the same researchers reveals that during long winters in the Arctic Circle, marine creatures are able to navigate by moonlight. In a study in the journal Current Biology, they report that zooplankton migrate by the light of the Moon rather than the Sun during the winter, moving from the surface of the ocean to depths of about 165 feet in conjunction with the full Moon.

The researchers examined more marine environments in a follow-up to their first study, finding that even at different depths and environments—under layers of ice, on the open sea, and more—marine life follows the same pattern in the winter. Instead of migrating according to 24-hour days, based on the movements of the Earth around the Sun, zooplankton shifted to a 24.8-hour lunar day, moving up and down throughout the water column when the Moon rose above the horizon.

The way that plankton move through the ocean influences the carbon cycle, because plankton absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, moving it into deeper waters as the plankton migrate and are eaten at different levels of the water column. Some of that carbon sinks to the bottom of the ocean as plankton die, and is stored there for centuries. Thus, this new knowledge of what plankton do during the winter might impact climate models.

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Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now
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Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to do some pretty complicated things: read lips, mimic sounds, analyze photographs of food, and even design beer. Unfortunately, even people who have plenty of coding knowledge might not know how to create the kind of algorithm that can perform these tasks. Google wants to bring the ability to harness artificial intelligence to more people, though, and according to WIRED, it's doing that by teaching machine-learning software to make more machine-learning software.

The project is called AutoML, and it's designed to come up with better machine-learning software than humans can. As algorithms become more important in scientific research, healthcare, and other fields outside the direct scope of robotics and math, the number of people who could benefit from using AI has outstripped the number of people who actually know how to set up a useful machine-learning program. Though computers can do a lot, according to Google, human experts are still needed to do things like preprocess the data, set parameters, and analyze the results. These are tasks that even developers may not have experience in.

The idea behind AutoML is that people who aren't hyper-specialists in the machine-learning field will be able to use AutoML to create their own machine-learning algorithms, without having to do as much legwork. It can also limit the amount of menial labor developers have to do, since the software can do the work of training the resulting neural networks, which often involves a lot of trial and error, as WIRED writes.

Aside from giving robots the ability to turn around and make new robots—somewhere, a novelist is plotting out a dystopian sci-fi story around that idea—it could make machine learning more accessible for people who don't work at Google, too. Companies and academic researchers are already trying to deploy AI to calculate calories based on food photos, find the best way to teach kids, and identify health risks in medical patients. Making it easier to create sophisticated machine-learning programs could lead to even more uses.

[h/t WIRED]

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European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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