As biomedical scientists continue to battle the deadly pandemic this year to help the world return to normalcy, researchers across the disciplines still aim to hit big milestones or launch new projects despite the challenges brought by COVID-19. European scientists will also have to contend with the aftermath of Brexit. Many U.S. scientists, in contrast, have a more hopeful political outlook, with some likely to play an invigorated role in tackling another global crisis, climate change, after President-elect Joe Biden, who has vowed to make it a top priority, is sworn in this month. In this article, Science’s news staff forecasts areas of research and policy we expect to make headlines this year, from protecting the high seas’ biodiversity to probing how ancient humans interacted.
As scientists and scholars from around the world, we call on policymakers to engage with the risk of disruption and even collapse of societies. After five years failing to reduce emissions in line with the Paris climate accord, we must now face the consequences. While bold and fair efforts to cut emissions and naturally drawdown carbon are essential, researchers in many areas consider societal collapse a credible scenario this century. Different views exist on the location, extent, timing, permanence and cause of disruptions, but the way modern societies exploit people and nature is a common concern.
The Sentinel-6 will see details that previous sea level missions couldn’t. Existing satellites can track large phenomena stretching thousands of miles, such as the Gulf Stream and weather patterns like El Niño and La Niña. But smaller sea-level fluctuations near coastlines exceed their abilities. Sentinel-6’s higher resolution measurements will enable researchers to see finer, more complicated ocean features, especially near shorelines. It will also offer faster data turnarounds—collecting, processing, and releasing data within three hours, down from months and years. The data can be used to more quickly and accurately predict, map, and 3D model coastline changes; weather, such as hurricane intensity; ocean current fluctuations, which dissipate climate energy; and ocean topography and circulation, as movement of heat, salt, pollution, and nutrients impacts marine ecosystems.
Scientists for Global Responsibility, a U.K.-based organization, has launched a new initiative with an Open Letter in The Guardian on November 7, stating: “Science has no higher purpose than to understand and help maintain the conditions for life to thrive on Earth. We may look beyond our planet with wonder and learn, but this is our only viable home.” The online campaign asks the world’s climate scientists to sign an Oath, modelled on the Hippocratic Oath for physicians, by which they “pledge to act in whatever ways we are able, in our lives and work, to prevent catastrophic climate disruption.”