Scientists stunned by rare Arctic lightning storms north of Alaska

The polar Northern lights in the mountains of Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Norway. (Shutterstock)
The polar Northern lights in the mountains of Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Norway. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 17 July 2021

Scientists stunned by rare Arctic lightning storms north of Alaska

Scientists stunned by rare Arctic lightning storms north of Alaska
  • Air over the Arctic Ocean typically lacks the convective heat needed to generate lightning storms, but that's changing, scientists say

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: Meteorologists were stunned this week when three successive thunderstorms swept across the icy Arctic from Siberia to north of Alaska, unleashing lightning bolts in an unusual phenomenon that scientists say will become less rare with global warming.
“Forecasters hadn’t seen anything like that before,” said Ed Plumb, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fairbanks, speaking about the storms that started on Saturday.
Typically, the air over the Arctic Ocean, especially when the water is covered with ice, lacks the convective heat needed to generate lightning storms.
But as climate change warms the Arctic faster than the rest of the world, that’s changing, scientists say.
Episodes of summer lightning within the Arctic Circle have tripled since 2010, a trend directly tied to climate change and increasing loss of sea ice in the far north, scientists reported in a March study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. As sea ice vanishes, more water is able to evaporate, adding moisture to the warming atmosphere.
“It’s going to go with the temperatures,” said co-author Robert Holzworth, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
These electrical storms threaten boreal forests fringing the Arctic, as they spark fires in remote regions already baking under the round-the-clock summer sun. Boreal Siberia in Russia gets more lightning than any other Arctic region, Holzworth said.

“What used to be very rare is now just rare.”

Rick Thoman, climate scientist at University of Alaska Fairbanks

The paper also documented more frequent lightning over the Arctic’s treeless tundra regions, as well as above the Arctic Ocean and pack ice. In August 2019, lightning even struck within 60 miles (100 kilometers) of the North Pole, the researchers found.
In Alaska alone, thunderstorm activity is on track to increase three-fold by the end of the century if current climate trends continue, according to two studies by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, published over the last year in the journal Climate Dynamics.
“What used to be very rare is now just rare,” said Rick Thoman, a climate scientist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As the parade of Arctic storms this week demonstrated, lightning is already appearing in unexpected places, he said. “I have no memory of three consecutive days of this kind of thing” in the Arctic.
With the sharp uptick in lightning, Siberia has seen increasingly ferocious forest fires in recent years. This week, the Russian army deployed water-dropping aircraft to douse flames burning some nearly 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) of forest, while the hardest-hit region of Yakutia has been in a state of emergency for weeks.
Meanwhile, mid-June lightning sparked one of the biggest fires this summer in Alaska, scorching more than 18,000 acres of tundra about 125 miles (200 km) north of the Arctic Circle in the Noatak National Preserve in the northwestern corner of the state.
Warming in the Arctic is also encouraging the growth of vegetation on northern Alaska’s tundra, adding further fuel for fires, scientists said.
By the end of the century, twice as much Alaska tundra could burn on a regular basis than was the norm in the past, with fires occurring four times more frequently, according to researchers at the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks.
On the water, the lightning is an increasing hazard to mariners, and vessel traffic is increasing as sea ice retreats, Holzworth said.
People can become lightning rods and usually try to get low for safety. That’s tough to do on flat tundra or ocean expanse.
“What you really need is to pay better attention to the lightning forecasts,” he said.


India emerges as Saudi Arabia’s second-largest trading partner

India emerges as Saudi Arabia’s second-largest trading partner
Updated 10 sec ago

India emerges as Saudi Arabia’s second-largest trading partner

India emerges as Saudi Arabia’s second-largest trading partner
  • The partnership is contributing significantly to the two nations’ economic progress.

The 75th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between India and Saudi Arabia has seen commercial ties between the two strategic partners rise to new heights. According to the General Authority of Statistics, for the first three quarters of 2021, India was Saudi Arabia's second-largest trading partner.

India’s Department of Commerce found that for the current financial year (April-November), trade between the two countries was $24.9 billion, an increase of 94 percent over the same period last year. It is especially heartening to note that current trends suggest that bilateral trade will surpass pre-pandemic levels. Another achievement worth mentioning is that India is well on its way to achieving its global export target of $400 billion set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Specifically, Indian exports to Saudi Arabia will comfortably exceed the set target.

Despite the pandemic's causing a halt in the physical movement of high-level business and trade delegations between the two countries which was expected after the establishment of the Strategic Partnership Council during Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in October 2019, the momentum of engagement has been sustained via virtual platforms.

The Economic and Investment Pillar of the Council, co-chaired by the Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and the Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, has already seen meetings at the senior official level and also under each of the four Joint Working Groups: Industry and Infrastructure; Agriculture and Food Security; IT and Technology; and Energy.

There have also been several positive developments on the investment side. Some 745 Indian companies are registered as joint ventures or 100 percent owned entities in the Kingdom as of October 2021. These figures stretch across sectors and amount to cumulative invested capital of around $2 billion. Saudi investments in India have seen a big jump over the last two years, especially after the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to India in February 2019 which raised Saudi investments in India to $100 billion. Significant investments include the investments of the Public Investment Fund into Reliance Retail Ventures and Reliance Jio.

India remains a top-tier investment destination, and is on its way to becoming a top-three global economy with a nominal GDP of $8-9 trillion by 2030.

To further promote foreign investments in India, various programs, such as Production Linked Incentive Schemes and the National Single Window System have been launched. The India Investment Grid, an online portal showcasing investment opportunities across India, can be accessed at https://indiainvestmentgrid.gov.in.

Both the Embassy of India in Riyadh and the Consulate General in Jeddah have continued to organize several B2B events through a virtual format which bolsters trade and investment in various sectors. Events so far have included cooperation in IT, pharmaceuticals, fruits and vegetables, spices, gems and jewelry, home decor and handicrafts; all have attracted a positive response from the Saudi business community.

A delegation from Saudi Arabia also visited the Indusfood Exhibition organized by the Trade Promotion Council of India in the National Capital Region earlier this month. The delegation explored opportunities in the food sector, which is a priority sector of trade between the two countries. The Saudi India Business Network, a forum of Saudi and Indian entrepreneurs and professionals with chapters in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, has also been actively engaging in various initiatives under the aegis of the Embassy. We appreciate the support extended by the Saudi Authorities and Chambers of Commerce towards making these initiatives successful.

As we mark the 73rd Republic Day of India on Jan. 26 this year, there is little doubt that socio-economic partnership between our two countries will continue to strengthen, contributing significantly to the two nations' economic progress.

  • Asim Anwar is Second Secretary (Economic and Commercial) at the Embassy of India in Riyadh.

Indonesia, Singapore sign key defense, extradition agreements

 Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
Updated 25 January 2022

Indonesia, Singapore sign key defense, extradition agreements

 Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
  • The agreements were signed during President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s annual leaders’ retreat
  • Lee said they represent a ‘major step forward’ in bilateral relations

JAKARTA: Indonesia and Singapore signed on Tuesday a series of agreements covering extradition, defense and airspace management in what is seen as a “major step forward” in relations between the two Southeast Asian neighbors.

The deals were signed by senior cabinet ministers following a meeting between President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Indonesia’s Bintan island as part of their annual leader’s retreat.

“Today, our bilateral relations take a major step forward,” Lee said during a joint press statement aired on Indonesia’s State Secretariat YouTube channel.

Both countries agreed to realign the boundary of their respective flight information regions while further strengthening cooperation and fostering closer interaction between their armed forces through a defense cooperation agreement.

“Going forward, we hope that the cooperation in law enforcement, aviation safety, as well as defense and security of the two countries will continue to be strengthened based on the principle of mutual benefit,” Widodo said.

Fitri Bintang, a researcher at the Center for Strategic International Studies in Jakarta, told Arab News that today’s milestones are “signs of maturing relations” between Indonesia and Singapore.

The two countries also inked an extradition agreement, under which they can grant the extradition of fugitives for a comprehensive list of offenses committed up to 18 years ago.

“The extradition treaty will enhance cooperation in combating crime and send a clear, positive signal to investors,” Lee said.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said in a statement that the extradition treaty will act as a deterrent for criminals in Indonesia and Singapore.

“If the two countries ratify the extradition treaty soon, then the law enforcement agencies of both countries can make use of this treaty to prevent and combat transnational crimes like corruption and terrorism,” he added.

Indonesia has already signed similar treaties with other countries in the region, including Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and China.

Indonesia and Singapore must now conclude their respective domestic processes to ratify and bring the agreements into force, which for these three agreements in particular, officials agreed must occur simultaneously.


London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi
Updated 25 January 2022

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi
  • Yasmin Chkaifi was stabbed to death Monday
  • Her ex-partner who stabbed her was also killed when a passing car struck him

LONDON: Police had named a woman who died Monday as a result of a brutal stabbing on the streets of London as Yasmin Chkaifi.

Mother-of-one Chkaifi died alongside her ex-partner, Leon McCaskre, 41, who was hit by a car.

Police have said McCaskre stabbed Chkaifi to death and was then hit by a car, killing him.

There are reports that the car hit McCaskre in an attempt to stop the attack on Chkaifi.

Police confirmed they were both from Maida Vale, London, and had previously been in a relationship.

A 26-year-old man arrested at the scene was arrested by police on suspicion of murder, but is said to be cooperating with authorities and has been released on bail.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Rawlinson, of the force’s Specialist Crime Command, said: “We are gaining a clearer idea of what happened at the scene thanks to information supplied by the public and by reviewing CCTV.

“Firstly, it is apparent that members of the public bravely tried to intervene to stop the attack and their actions were very courageous.

“We are speaking to the families of those concerned and doing all we can to support them at this terrible time.

“We can now confirm that both the deceased were previously known to each other and there are no outstanding suspects.

“A man, who was the driver of a car, has been arrested and bailed for a very serious offense and we must carry out a full investigation, looking at all the circumstances.”


Saudi-funded campus in Pakistan’s Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi-funded campus in Pakistan’s Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
  • The campus, hosting mainly science departments, started classes in September 2020
  • It was completed with funding from the Saudi Development Fund worth $51 million

MUZAFFARABAD: A Saudi-funded campus of the biggest university in Pakistan-administered Kashmir is fostering science education in the region and encouraging female enrollment into the male-dominated field, as nearly half of its students are women — higher than the global average.

The multimillion-dollar King Abdullah Campus in Chhatar Kalas, 22 km from the regional capital Muzaffarabad, was financed by Saudi Arabia, which has funded several development projects in the region, helping it return to normalcy after a devastating earthquake in 2005 destroyed most of its infrastructure, including the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Built on nearly 100 hectares, the campus was completed in late 2019 and started classes in September 2020.

“King Abdullah Campus was completed with financial help from the Saudi Development Fund worth 9 billion rupees ($51 million),” Raja Abdul Qayyum Khan, director of the campus, told Arab News.

The campus now hosts most of the university’s 9,000 students and is home to its science departments, including physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, and geology, which see a high rate of female enrollment.

Globally, only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education are women, according to UNESCO data. At King Abdullah Campus, however, women constitute 47 percent of all students.

“Out of a total 5,440 students enrolled at King Abdullah Campus, there are 2,877 males and 2,563 females. That speaks volumes about girls’ participation,” Khan said. “We would like to see that ratio further increase.”

After the earthquake destruction, many students at the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir had to travel far to other campuses — some even to Islamabad — to attend courses.

With social norms and safety concerns limiting women’s mobility across Pakistan, traveling alone tens of kilometers from home was nearly impossible for them.

“The establishment of King Abdullah Campus at Chhattar Kalas has given me, and many other girls, an advantage,” 19-year-old mathematics student Samar Qayum told Arab News, explaining that traveling long distances was a major burden for them.

“The number of female students would have gone down in this region,” she said, “but this facility has made life easier for girls.”

Boys, too, are happy.

Physics student Waqar Younis said the establishment of the campus allowed him to save on transportation and accommodation, as those were major costs for the students.

“The establishment of King Abdullah Campus has greatly benefited me,” he said.

In the near future, the campus is likely to become even more attractive as $8.5 million computer science labs should be ready this year.

The nine labs will be equipped with 600 computers, allowing for the study of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“We are hopeful that by this year in August we may get the equipment,” Dr. Rabia Riaz, head of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, told Arab News.

“This sort of equipment and building structure is not only unavailable in Azad Kashmir but also in all of Pakistan.”

 

Related


Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine
Updated 25 January 2022

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine
  • The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial

NEW YORK: Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said on Tuesday they started a clinical trial to test a new version of their vaccine specifically designed to target the COVID-19 omicron variant, which has eluded some of the protection provided by the original two-dose vaccine regimen.
The companies plan to test the immune response generated by the omicron-based vaccine both as a three-shot regimen in unvaccinated people and as a booster shot for people who already received two doses of their original vaccine.
They are also testing a fourth dose of the current vaccine against a fourth dose of the omicron-based vaccine in people who received their third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine three to six months earlier.
The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial.
“While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address omicron and new variants in the future,” Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said in a statement.
Pfizer has said that a two-dose regimen of the original vaccine may not be sufficient to protect against infection from the omicron variant, and that protection against hospitalizations and deaths may be waning.
Still, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a third dose of an mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has provided 90 percent protection against hospitalization due to COVID-19.
Some countries have already started offering additional booster doses, but a recent study from Israel showed that while a fourth dose of an mRNA vaccine boosted antibodies, the level was not high enough to prevent infection by the omicron variant.
BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told Reuters in November that regulators would not likely require testing of an omicron-based vaccine on humans because it and Pfizer had already created versions of their established vaccine to target the earlier Alpha and Delta variants, with clinical trials continuing.
However, the debate appears to have shifted as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said in a statement on Friday that international regulators now preferred clinical studies to be carried out before approval of a new vaccine.
These studies should show that neutralising antibodies in the blood of participants are superior to those elicited by current vaccines. Another desired feature of an upgraded vaccine would be for it to also protect against other variants of concern, the EMA said.
The omicron variant has replaced the Delta variant as the dominant lineage in many parts of the world and omicron itself is now splitting into different subforms, one of which, BA2, is causing particular concern.