Google might finally pay news outlets for their content

“We want to help people find quality journalism—it’s important to informed democracy and helps support a sustainable news industry,” Google said in a statement shared by WSJ. “We care deeply about this and are talking with partners and looking at more ways to expand our ongoing work with publishers, building on programmes like our Google News Initiative.”

According to people familiar with the matter, Google is mostly speaking with publishers outside of the US, including some in France and Europe. The content could appear in a free Google product.

Licensing deals could be a huge win for news organizations. Google sends tons of traffic to news sites, but so far, it hasn’t paid organizations for their content directly. Apple’s potentially similar product, Apple News+, kicked off last year, offering over 300 magazines and periodicals for $9.99, and Facebook began rolling out its news tab last fall. According to WSJ, Facebook told news outlets that it would pay as much as $3 million a year to license content.


Steam’s personalized news hub keeps you updated about your games

It also features announcements related to your games, though, as well as any upcoming events happening in the future. Valve says the hub’s content will be based on the games in your library and your wishlist, as well as the games you chose to follow on their store pages. In addition, it will show you the latest about the titles Steam would recommend based on what you play and the latest news from the Steam Blog and the Steamworks Blog if you’re a developer.

That said, you can always hide posts about specific titles or from specific sources, if you’re not exactly interested in hearing about them. Since it’s still a Steam Labs experiment, though, the current version of the hub isn’t its final form yet — according to the developer, it plans to add more options that will let you personalize it even further in the coming weeks.

The next Steam Labs experiment is live! Check out the Steam News Hub to easily find updates, announcements, and events for the games you play and/or have an interest in following.

— Alden Kroll (@aldenkroll) March 5, 2020


New Samsung Phones, Record Heat in Antarctica, and More News

Samsung is unveiling and Antarctica is ailing, but first: a cartoon about marriage in the age of social media.

Here’s the news you need to know, in two minutes or less.

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Today’s News

Everything Samsung announced at its ‘Unpacked’ event

Samsung kicked off its Galaxy Unpacked hardware event in San Francisco by announcing the arrival of its new flagship Galaxy S20 phone line. All three models, ranging in price from $1,000 to $1,400, will be equipped with 5G and capable of shooting 8K video. The company also announced a souped-up version of its Galaxy wireless earbuds, which get 11 hours of battery life, according to Samsung. The company’s Icon buds, by contrast, only had a measly hour and a half or so of juice.

The big (yet hidden) consequences of Antarctica’s record heat

Last week Antarctica set a high for the warmest temperature ever recorded there: 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures like that melt the continent’s stocks of ice, and tiny crustaceans called krill are already struggling to find food. That, in turn, affects other animals that depend on krill, like penguins. Furthermore, many native species depend on the extreme temperatures to protect them from invasive species.

Fast Fact: $0

That’s how much campaigns will have to pay for Google’s new security program aimed at keeping political campaign information safe in upcoming elections. Google is working with a nonpartisan nonprofit called Defending Digital Campaigns, which will distribute these safety measures and teach campaign staff how to use them.

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Zuck’s Lost Notebook, Marsupial Trouble, and More News

Zuck’s notebooks are open and marsupials aren’t copin’, but first: a cartoon about smart cars. Here’s the news you need to know, in two minutes or less.

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Today’s News

Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s lost notebook

In the early days of Facebook, founder Mark Zuckerberg was always scrawling away in a notebook. One such notebook, called the Book of Change, outlined his goals for News Feed, who Facebook would serve, and even concepts like “dark profiles,” which Facebook contends never existed. In one section, he even asked a revealing question: “What makes this seem secure, whether or not it actually is?” After having other messages of his surfaced by lawsuits, Zuckerberg destroyed the journals. But a new book by WIRED’s Steven Levy describes more than a dozen pages Levy obtained from that very notebook.

This marsupial dies after marathon mating. Now it’s got bigger problems

A mouse-like marsupial called the antechinus has become world-famous because of its breeding pattern: The pairs have so much sex during a three-week mating season that the males bleed internally, go blind, and die. Happy Valentines Day? But that’s not the reason the species is in trouble. A new report shows that antechinus is ill-prepared for a warming world. New research shows warmer temperatures mean fewer of the insects they depend on for food during this three-week marathon, and that antechinus babies born in warmer temperatures have less ability to adapt to changing environments.

Fast Fact: Covid-19

That’s the new name the World Health Organization has given to the current coronavirus outbreak. Defining more specific names like this one not only helps information be more accurate, but it also helps curb diseases from being named after places (like Spanish Flu), people (like Creutzfeld-Jacob disease), or animals (like bird flu).

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Twitter’s Fleets Top This Week’s Internet News Roundup

For the first time in a long time, this past week had nearly everyone talking about the same thing: the new coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 is continuing to spread, infecting some 93,000 people worldwide and killing, as of this writing, more than 3,000. It’s also also harming business and destroying travel plans around the world. (Could this end up being an end to globalization, of all things?) It’s understandably the biggest subject on most people’s minds, but it’s also far from the only thing to talk about, especially as climate change is still happening and weird things are happening in Ukraine. On top of all of that, the Dixie Chicks are back and Katy Perry is pregnant. Also, Lady Gaga is going on tour and Taika Waititi is making Charlie and the Chocolate Factory shows for Netflix. While we’re waiting for those cultural monoliths, why not eavesdrop on what people have spent this week talking about? Let’s!

Super Tuesday

What Happened: The election-year mega-event known as Super Tuesday, which drastically reduced the number of Democratic candidates for US president, and left former vice president Joe Biden as the frontrunner.

What Really Happened: Did the start of this week seem special to you in any way? There was something in the air, right?

Oh, that was probably it. Yes, this past Tuesday was indeed Super Tuesday, the day during which there are so many presidential primaries that nearly one-third of the delegates are up for grabs in one 24-hour period. If that’s not “super,” then you’re probably already exhausted by primary season and wishing all of this could just be over already.

To be fair, it had been a pretty exhausting week leading up to Super Tuesday, with Joe Biden winning South Carolina on Saturday, which led to Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropping out of the race and endorsing Biden. That cleared the field to four players, with a lot of delegates to play for.

Spoiler alert: Those 1,357 delegates weren’t being shared equally between all four by the end of the night.

With 14 states voting in a variety of ways throughout the day, it’s fair to say that things didn’t go entirely smoothly—whether it was delays in results in some locations for reasons including an actual tornado, or long waits in Texas—leading many to note that the US really doesn’t do democracy that well, when it comes down to it.

When they finally started coming in, however, the results narrowed the field and continued the narrative from South Carolina, with Joe Biden continuing his career as the unlikely comeback kid.

If Biden and Sanders carved up the map between them—Biden might have won more states, but Sanders took California, which was big—it was a bad night for Senator Elizabeth Warren and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who struggled to take anything, but at least the latter didn’t go home empty-handed when dropping out of the race a day later.

Despite the California win, Tuesday didn’t turn out great for Sanders, whose campaign went from frontrunner to plucky insurgent when his projected youth surge failed to happen, prompting some to expect a change in strategy moving forward. Online, however, a day after Super Tuesday, #RiggedPrimary started trending—because who needs introspection or reconsideration when there are conspiracy theories to be floated?

Well, this seems fine.

The Takeaway: We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the most important result of the Super Tuesday vote, however. Is it too late to get Murfee on the national ticket?

Trump’s ‘Hunch’

What Happened: One of the most dangerous things during a viral outbreak is the sharing of misinformation, which explains why more than a few folks are worried about President Trump’s remarks to the nation last week.

What Really Happened: In times like now, with the coronavirus continuing to spread inside the US and across the world, it’s important that people stay informed with the most up-to-date information about what is going on, and what they should do in response. That’s why it falls to the President of the United States to have the right information at his fingertips when he talks about the subject.

Yes, the president went on Fox News to give his own assessment of the coronavirus impact, disagreeing with the World Health Organization’s estimate on the death rate based on, and I quote, “just my hunch.”

The next morning, he took to Twitter to explain.

You might be wondering why the Comcast shoutout in particular, and the answer is … actually, it’s hard to tell. (Comcast owns NBCUniversal, a fact that most people don’t remember for obvious reasons.) Nevertheless, there’s this thing that usually happens when people try to deny things they said on television: A lot of people have receipts.

The Takeaway: Just imagine if Trump’s call to Sean Hannity’s show had gone another way.

No Time to Die Gets Delayed

What Happened: The new James Bond movie’s release got postponed due to fears about the new coronavirus.

What Really Happened: Speaking of the coronavirus, midweek brought some genuinely surprising news about just what kind of an impact it was having. No, not that both Italy and Greece were closing schools to prevent the spread of the virus in their particular countries, although that’s obviously a big deal. Instead, it was the surprise announcement that even Britain’s greatest fictional living super spy had fallen prey.

Yes, despite not being real, even James Bond was being affected by the coronavirus as producers announced a sevenmonth delay to the movie’s release due to concerns over the spread of Covid-19.

The announcement came days after fans had asked for this very thing, suggesting that No Time to Die deserved better than being dumped in a marketplace where people might, understandably, want to avoid hanging out in spaces where people are touching their faces and not washing their hands together.

Nonetheless, not all fans seemed too happy with the news, thereby proving the truism “you can’t please all of the people all of the time, especially if you’re denying them access to a piece of entertainment they’ve convinced themselves they have an undeniable right to as soon as possible, even if there’s a global outbreak as a counterargument.”

Of course, some were unconvinced by the cover story and wanted the “truth” to get out.

The Takeaway: Does anyone have a pun that we can wrap this up with? Anyone? We’ll accept something about there being more time to die after all, or perhaps a “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to be delayed for seven months,” or…

Supreme Court Justice

What Happened: Apparently, it’s not cool to suggest that Supreme Court justices should think about the political consequences of their decisions, unless you’re the commander-in-chief, in which case it’s all fine.

What Really Happened: It’s not all Covid-19 around these here parts, of course. Although it might feel otherwise, the rest of life continues to go on everywhere. Why, just think of the US Supreme Court! It’s probably up to something really exciting right now!

Well, that sounds a little foreboding.

The case in question centers around defending Louisiana’s restrictive abortion laws, and it’s very similar to a Texas case the court struck down four years ago—this time around, though, the makeup of the Supreme Court is significantly different considering two Trump appointees now serve as justices. Concern over the possibility that the increasingly conservative court might use the case to close down abortion rights prompted Senator Chuck Schumer into action, speaking Wednesday morning.

Schumer’s comments proved to be controversial, earning him a rebuke from the chief justice himself, John Roberts.

Roberts stepping in on this topic wasn’t appreciated by many court watchers, who felt as if he was stepping into waters that he probably didn’t want to be in.

Not everyone thought that Roberts’ comments were beyond the pale, however.

Still, I’m sure Schumer will back down and—

OK, but at least there’s no way to escalate this any m—

Oh, come on.

The Takeaway: Looks like this one isn’t over yet.

Twitter Is Fleeting

What Happened: Twitter unveiled what it thought was the latest big idea to make Twitter seem less like Twitter last week, prompting users to declare that the service was about to die. So, you know, no one massively overreacted or anything.

What Really Happened: You know it’s a good sign when one of the biggest trending topics on Twitter at any give point is “#RIPTwitter.” Such was the case on Wednesday afternoon, when it turned out that a lot of people were ready to give the social media platform its last rites.

You’re probably asking yourself what fleet is. Or, to be more precise, what fleets are. Thankfully, the answer was easy to find on the apparently-soon-to-be-deceased platform.

Yes, it’s stories, but for Twitter, which sure.

This is, of course, the time to remind everyone why an edit button is not a good idea for Twitter.

Of course, before anyone gets too excited about the idea that this will be the thing that finally destroys Twitter, just remember: You’re in here with us. There’s no escape.

The Takeaway: Really, this is just the start of a horrifying new tradition, that’s what we’ve got to realize. All hail the fleets.

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New Uber Rules, Bomber-Inspired Jet Design, and More News

Uber is defining and Airbus is designing, but first: a cartoon about a ruthless smart fridge. Here’s the news you need to know, in two minutes or less.

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Today’s News

Uber changes its rules, and drivers adjust their strategies

Uber has a response to a new California law that forces the company to treat drivers like employees: “Well fine, maybe we just won’t pick you up.” Uber is now allowing drivers in California to see how much a ride would pay and where it would go before they accept it. And theoretically drivers can reject as many rides as they like without punishment. For rides from some California airports, Uber is even experimenting with allowing drivers to set their own fares. The company hopes this move will help make the case that drivers are independent contractors and not employees.

Airbus’ Maveric brings B-2 bomber style to passenger jets

The shape and look of commercial airlines hasn’t changed much since the 1950s, but Airbus wants to change all that with a new jet it calls the Maverick. The Maverick is shaped like a triangle, much like the B-2 stealth bomber. The reduced drag could decrease the plane’s fuel consumption by up to 20 percent, and while it does mean fewer window seats for passengers, it also mean designers can create new seating configurations.

Fast Fact: Hundreds of Millions

That’s how many PC firmware components remain hackable, according to new research from security firm Eclypsium. Despite years of warnings from multiple sources, interconnected devices like hard drives, webcams, and even trackpads contain vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to break into machines everywhere.

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Facebook prototypes tabbed News Feed with Most Recent & Seen

Facebook may make it easier to escape its ranking algorithm and explore the News Feed in different formats. Facebook has internally prototyped a tabbed version of the News Feed for mobile that includes the standard Most Relevant feed, the existing Most Recent feed of reverse chronological posts that was previously buried as a sidebar bookmark and an Already Seen feed of posts you’ve previously viewed that historically was only available on desktop via the largely unknown URL

The tabbed feed is currently unlaunched, but if Facebook officially rolls it out, it could make the social network feel more dynamic and alive as it’d be easier to access Most Recent to view what’s happening in real time. It also could help users track down an important post they lost that they might want to learn from or comment on. The tabbed interface would be the biggest change to News Feed since 2013 when Facebook announced but later scrapped the launch of a multi-feed with side bar options for just exploring Music, Photos, Close Friends and more.

The tabbed News Feed prototype was spotted in the Facebook for Android code by master reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong, who has provided to TechCrunch tips on core new features. She was able to generate these screenshots that show the tabs for Relevant, Recent and Seen above the News Feed. Tapping these reveals a Sort Your News Feed configuration window where you can choose between the feeds, see descriptions from them or dive into the existing News Feed preferences about who you block or see first.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg reveals the later-scrapped multi-feed

When asked by TechCrunch, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed this is something it’s considering testing externally, but it’s just internally available for now. It’s exploring whether the tabbed interface would make Most Recent and Seen easier to access. “You can already view your Facebook News Feed chronologically. We’re testing ways to make it easier to find, as well as sort by posts you’ve already seen,” the spokesperson tells TechCrunch, and the company also tweeted.

Offering quicker ways to sort the feed could keep users scrolling longer. If they encounter a few boring posts chosen by the algorithm, want to see what friends are doing right now or want to enjoy posts they already interacted with, a tabbed interface would give them an instant alternative beyond closing the app. While likely not the motive for this experiment, increasing time spent across these feeds could boost Facebook’s ad views at a time when it has been hammered by Wall Street for slowing profit growth.

To many, Facebook’s algorithm can feel like an inscrutable black box that decides their content destiny. Feed it the wrong signals with pity Likes or guilty-pleasure video views and it can get confused about what you want. Facebook may finally deem us mature enough to have readily available controls over what we see.


Shakeups at the Justice Department Top This Week’s Internet News Roundup

First up, let’s get a few quick bits of news out of the way. Last week, New Hampshire held its Democratic presidential primary, which didn’t bring too many surprises beyond the fact that Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota did quite well. Also, Parasite won big at the Oscars, which got a lot of people talking about the importance of subtitles. Elsewhere, the coronavirus—now called SARS-CoV-2is continuing to be a problem, President Trump’s former adviser Hope Hicks is now a Trump adviser once again, and everyone’s happy that Rick Moranis is coming out of retirement. OK, now that that’s over, we can give you all the news you might not have seen. Let’s get started.

Stone Cold

What Happened: Somehow, Roger Stone’s sentencing led to a huge dustup in Washington.

What Really Happened: Remember Roger Stone? The famously flamboyant, infamously tricky adviser to President Trump, who was convicted on charges of lying to and obstructing Congress, witness tampering, and multiple other charges? That Roger Stone? The one with a Nixon tattoo on his back? Well, he was back in the news last week, as prosecutors recommended sentencing for his numerous crimes.

Considering everything that Stone was found guilty of, this seemed like a reasonable suggested sentence to many people. This was, after all, a man who repeatedly violated direct orders from the judge in his trial, never mind everything he was actually charged with. President Trump, however, didn’t see things that way.

Having the president weigh in on the subject was a little concerning, especially when pardons were being discussed even before Stone went to jail. Those thinking that there’s still supposed to be a system where the Department of Justice wouldn’t be cowed by such things, however, might have been surprised by what followed.

If that seemed suspicious, just wait—you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Yes, the prosecutors who made the original sentencing recommendations all quit the case in protest over the DOJ’s backtrack.

The next day, Trump took to Twitter to explain.

Then, on Thursday, Barr had this to say in response to the president’s actions.

That was followed the next morning by this tweet from Trump.

This thing feels far from over.

The Takeaway: Welp.

Attorney General William Barr’s Possible Congressional Testimony

What Happened: Attorney General William Barr claimed he would testify before Congress. Some folks, though, don’t believe he’ll ever actually do it.

What Really Happened: Actually, before he got involved in the Roger Stone case, Barr was busy doing a lot of things that caught people’s attention, including issuing new guidelines on counterintelligence cases that limit multiple investigations involving the president and potentially being involved in setting up a process to vet the information Rudy Giuliani collected on the Bidens in Ukraine.

There’s a lot to unpack there, and Congress, it seems, is ready to try to do as much of that as possible.

News of the testimony quickly spread across the internet, but not everyone was bowled over by it, nor were they expecting Barr to follow through on his promise.

Others, meanwhile, found themselves suspicious of the announced timing of the hearing. Suffice to say, this isn’t quite the nitpicking that it might otherwise seem, but an actual concern about what can happen in the course of six weeks.

Maybe they shouldn’t be that pessimistic about that, however.

The Takeaway: Actually, let’s direct your attention once again to Barr’s recent comments in The New York Times.

Hookers for Jesus

What Happened: The Justice Department has given a group called Hookers for Jesus more than half a million dollars. If that doesn’t get you at least interested in what’s going on in this story, then we don’t know what will.

What Really Happened: You know it’s about to be a good (or at least interesting) day when, as happened this past Monday, “Hookers for Jesus” is one of the highest trending topics on Twitter.

Admit it; by now, you’re probably wondering just what’s going on, what Hookers for Jesus actually is, and just why it was trending in the first place. Well, my friends, it’s a wild, sad tale that goes a little something like this.

OK, that doesn’t sound too good, especially when it emerges that the Department of Justice’s half a million dollar grant replaced grants for other charities. But is everything what it seems?

Oh, so the answer is a definite yes, then.

Of course, we should remember that Hookers for Jesus was just one of two groups mentioned by the whistle-blower. What about the other one?

This really has been a crazy week for the Department of Justice, hasn’t it?

The Takeaway: At least some people were asking the right questions.

The Anniversary of ‘Friday’

What Happened: It’s been nine years since we discovered that we gotta get down on Friday, and that’s apparently enough time for people—including the woman who sang the track in question—to really think about what happened in that fever dream of an era.

What Really Happened: Hey, remember Rebecca Black? The teen songstress behind viral hit and irritating earworm “Friday”? Sure you do. Last week was the ninth anniversary of the song’s release—they grow up so fast!—which left the now-twentysomething Black in a bit of a reflective mood.

For whatever reason (psst, it’s that Black has turned out to be attractive now that she’s an adult; don’t tell anyone that the mass internet mind is really quite that shallow), the post went viral, getting shared around mainstream media as well as social media, and allowing fans and haters alike to reflect on their past behavior just a little.

Let’s not get things too out of perspective, though.

Such a cynical view does distract from Black’s point, admittedly—although we can’t help but feel that Black relaunching her music career skews things as well, somehow, as this can’t help but raise her profile—but let’s think about this Rebecca Black reappraisal that’s happening as a result of this moment of nostalgia!

If nothing else, let us recognize Black’s seeming return to pop culture icon status in such a short amount of time for the feat that it is.

The Takeaway: Here’s the thing, though; “Friday,” the song, is only nine years old. Why is everyone acting as if that’s a long time?

Knives to Meet You

What Happened: Crowdsourcing a movie title turns out to be far more fun than you might expect when there’s a cutlery theme to embrace.

What Really Happened: It was the movie that won the hearts of a nation by demonstrating Daniel Craig’s mastery over accents, how great Chris Evans looks in sweaters, and that everyone loves a good murder mystery. With the news that Knives Out is getting a sequel, it’s not the biggest surprise that one question was on everyone’s lips this week. (Well, two questions, because people also desperately want to know if Chris Evans will return.

Look, if you ask something like that, it’s not really a surprise that everyone is going to have an answer.

As the suggestions kept flowing in and the media started noticing, it turned out that at least one person was taking note of what people seemingly want to see—and it was exactly the one person everyone would have wanted.

Look, if the writer-director of the movie is watching, then you’d really better bring your A game.

The Takeaway: As it happens, movie critic Matt Singer had already suggested the perfect answer weeks earlier, which is actually a particularly whodunit-y revelation, really…

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Augmented Reality From the Driver’s Seat, and More Car News This Week

If you’re reading this, chances are you feel like you need more information. Welcome to the club. This week we followed a bunch of transportation players in search of more nuggets of knowledge. Retailers jumping on the ecommerce bandwagon are hoping to discover how to lose fewer deliveries, which is costing them tons of moolah. Concerned scientists are wondering whether the whizz-bang augmented reality making its way into your car might actually distract more than help. And Wall Street analysts are trying to figure out which competing transportation app has the best path to profitability—or if a path exists at all.

Plus: Look at this plane! It’s been a week; let’s get you caught up.

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Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • Wall Street seems to be buying the strategic international chaos of Uber more than the focused approach of Lyft.

  • Late and failed deliveries cost retailers a ton of money—nearly $18 per package. Better data might fix it.

  • Thanks to a gigantic storm, a 747 made it across the Atlantic Ocean in record time.

  • The little Maveric plane is super efficient. But it has a long road to production, and the skies.

  • Welcome to the augmented-reality arms race happening inside your car.

PSA of the Week

We hope you’re enjoying a long weekend. We also hope you’re not off-roading in Death Valley National Park, like an inconsiderate butthead. The National Park Service released photos this week of more than 130 miles of unauthorized 4×4 tracks, which have damaged protected areas near some of the park’s most popular sites. There are plenty of places you can off-road! For free! Get outta the protected areas, people!

Stat of the Week: 100,000*

The number of “robotaxi” rides that self-driving vehicle developer Aptiv and ride-hailer Lyft have completed in Las Vegas, according to the companies. There’s a reason for that asterisk: All those vehicles had a human safety driver behind the wheel, and that driver always controlled the car in parking lots and around hotels. But Lyft and Aptiv say the experiment has helped them discover how people use and react to self-driving vehicles—information both companies may be able to use once the technology is ready to lose that pesky human.

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The Arctic Is Getting Greener. That’s Bad News for All of Us

Right now the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and transforming in massively consequential ways. Rapidly melting permafrost is gouging holes in the landscape. Thousands of years’ worth of wet accumulated plant matter known as peat is drying out and burning in unprecedented wildfires. Lightning—a phenomenon more suited to places like Florida—is now striking within 100 miles of the North Pole.

All the while, researchers are racing to quantify how the plant species of the Arctic are coping with a much, much warmer world. In a word, well. And probably: too well. Using satellite data, drones, and on-the-ground fieldwork, a team of dozens of scientists—ecologists, biologists, geographers, climate scientists, and more—is finding that vegetation like shrubs, grasses, and sedges are growing more abundant. The phenomenon is known as “Arctic greening,” and with it comes a galaxy of strange and surprising knock-on effects with implications both for the Arctic landscape and the world’s climate at large.

Despite its icy reputation, the Arctic isn’t a lifeless place. Unlike Antarctica, which isn’t home to trees or to many animals that you can see without a microscope, the Arctic is teeming with life, particularly plants. Its grasses and shrubs are beautifully adapted to survive winters in which their days are completely lightless, because the vegetation lies covered in a layer of snow, surviving mostly underground as roots. When the thaw comes, the plants have perhaps a month to do everything they need to survive and reproduce: make seeds, soak up nutrients, gather sunlight.

But as the world has warmed over the past few decades, satellites have been watching the Arctic get greener—with various levels of precision. One satellite might give you the resolution on the scale of a football field, another on the scale of Central Park. These days, the resolution of fancy modern cameras might be 10 by 10 meters. But even then, ecologists can’t decipher exactly what these plant communities look like without being on the ground.

Image may contain: Universe, Space, Astronomy, Outer Space, Planet, Night, Outdoors, Moon, and Nature

The WIRED Guide to Climate Change

The world is getting warmer, the weather is getting worse. Here’s everything you need to know about what humans can do to stop wrecking the planet.

First, the Arctic is dark 24 hours a day in the winter. “That’s a long-running challenge of using satellites in that part of the world,” says Jeffrey Kerby, an ecologist and geographer formerly at Dartmouth College and now at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies. He was one of the co-lead authors on a recent paper on Arctic greening published in Nature Climate Change by this international group of scientists, who received funding from the National Geographic Society and government agencies in the UK, North America, and Europe.

And even when you get 24 hours of light in the summer, it’s a problematic kind of light. “Because the sun is so low, it can cast big shadows all over the place, and people generally aren’t interested in studying shadows,” Kerby says.

So with the help of small drones the team launches right from the field, researchers have been scouring landscapes to decode in fine detail how the Arctic is transforming, and marrying that with the data coming from the eyes in the sky. A drone can get close enough to the ground to tell them which plants might be benefiting in a particular landscape as it warms. The researchers can also quantify how an area is changing year over year by having the drones photograph the same regions, and by deploying, of all things, tea bags. “We stick tea bags in the ground, and over one year, two years, etc., and see how much of that gets decomposed across these different microclimates,” says Isla Myers-Smith, a global change ecologist at the University of Edinburgh and co-lead author on the new paper.

They’re finding that the change isn’t driven by invasive species moving into the Arctic to exploit the warming climate. It’s more that taller native species like shrubs are becoming more abundant. “It means that canopy heights are taller as a whole, and that has significant implications,” says Myers-Smith. “It might be starting to influence the way the tundra plants protect the frozen soils and carbon below.”

For instance, taller shrub canopies trap more snow in the winter, instead of allowing the stuff to blow around the tundra. This snow might build into an insulating layer that could prevent the cold from penetrating the soil. “So that accelerates—potentially—the thaw of permafrost,” says Myers-Smith. “And you can also change the surface reflectance of the tundra when you have these taller plants, if they stick up above the snowpack.” Vegetation is darker than snow, and therefore absorbs more heat, further exacerbating the thaw of the soil.

Thawing permafrost is one of the most dreaded climate feedback loops. Permafrost contains thousands of years of accumulated carbon in the form of plant material. A thaw—perhaps exacerbated by more abundant vegetation—threatens to release more CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. More carbon in the atmosphere means more warming, which means more permafrost thaw, ad infinitum—or at least until the permafrost is gone.

Permafrost thaws, and the land slumps

Photograph: Gergana Daskalova/National Geographic Society

A permafrost melt also releases more water into the soil, leading to yet more knock-on effects for the vegetation. “When the ground is frozen, plants don’t have any access to water,” says Kerby. “So it’s almost like being in a desert for part of the year.”

Frozen ground limits when the plants can grow. But an earlier thaw could mean that plants kickstart their growth earlier in the year. As those soils thaw deeper and deeper, they will also release gobs of nutrients that have been trapped underground for perhaps thousands of years, supercharging the growth of these increasingly abundant Arctic plant species. This means the landscape could get even greener and even more hospitable to plants that can take advantage of warmer temperatures.

And really, underground is where so much of the Arctic mystery still lies: In these tundra ecosystems, up to 80 percent of the biomass is below ground. (Remember that in the deep chill of winter, roots survive underground.) “So when you see the green surface, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the biomass in these systems,” says Myers-Smith. “So it could be that a lot of the climate change responses of these plants are actually all in the below-ground world that we have a very difficult time tracking and monitoring.”

Another big unknown is how animal species—big and small—fit into a warmer, greener landscape. How might tiny herbivores like caterpillars take to an increasingly lush Arctic? How might large herbivores like caribou exploit the vegetation bounty, and might it even influence their migratory patterns, potentially threatening an important source of food for native people? And how might all these herbivores hoovering up the extra vegetation affect the carbon cycle? That is, the natural movement of carbon from soil to animals to the atmosphere.

For the scientists, the really worrying bit is the fact that there’s twice as much carbon in permafrost as there is in the atmosphere. “That’s a lot of carbon that has been sitting there for thousands of years, kind of locked up in ice,” says Kerby. “And as that permafrost starts to thaw, microbes can start digesting all of the dead leaves and dead animals.” The greening of the Arctic could already be exacerbating this thaw.

It might seem weird for humans to be rooting against plants. But sometimes greener pastures aren’t a good thing.

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