Science & Health

Ice Shelf Collapses in Previously Stable East Antarctica

An ice shelf the size of New York City has collapsed in East Antarctica, an area long thought to be stable and not hit much by climate change, concerned scientists said Friday.

The collapse, captured by satellite images, marked the first time in human history that the frigid region had an ice shelf collapse. It happened at the beginning of a freakish warm spell last week when temperatures soared more than 70 degrees (40 Celsius) warmer than normal in some spots of East Antarctica. Satellite photos show the area had been shrinking rapidly the last couple of years, and now scientists say they wonder if they have been overestimating East Antarctica’s stability and resistance to global warming that has been melting ice rapidly on the smaller western side and the vulnerable peninsula.

The ice shelf, about 460 square miles wide (1200 square kilometers) holding in the Conger and Glenzer glaciers from the warmer water, collapsed between March 14 and 16, said ice scientist Catherine Walker of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. She said scientists have never seen this happen in this part of the continent and that makes it worrisome.

“The Glenzer Conger ice shelf presumably had been there for thousands of years and it’s not ever going to be there again,” said University of Minnesota ice scientist Peter Neff.

The issue isn’t the amount of ice lost in this collapse, Neff and Walker said. It’s negligible. But it’s more about the where it happened.

Neff said he worries that previous assumptions about East Antarctica’s stability may not be so right. And that’s important because the water frozen in East Antarctica if it melted — and that’s a millennia-long process if not longer — would raise seas across the globe more than 160 feet (50 meters). It’s more than five times the ice in the more vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet, where scientists have concentrated much of their research.

Scientists had been seeing the ice shelf shrink a bit since the 1970s, Neff said. Then in 2020, the shelf’s ice loss sped up to losing about half of itself every month or so, Walker said.

“We probably are seeing the result of a lot of long time increased ocean warming there,” Walker said. “it’s just been melting and melting.”

And then last week’s warming “probably is something like, you know, the last straw on the camel’s back.”

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

‘CODA,’ ‘Audible’ Spread Awareness of Deaf Culture

Two films, CODA and Audible, have received multiple Oscar nominations. Whether they will nab the coveted statuettes remains to be seen, but their real victory is that both have made the hearing world more aware of Deaf culture. VOA’s Penelope Poulou spoke with Audible filmmaker Matthew Ogens, Audible executive producer Nyle Dimarco, and faculty members and students at Gallaudet University, a school for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

EU Negotiators Agree on Landmark Law to Curb Big Tech

Negotiators from the European Parliament and EU member states agreed Thursday on a landmark law to curb the market dominance of U.S. big tech giants such as Google, Meta, Amazon and Apple.

Meeting in Brussels, the lawmakers nailed down a long list of do’s and don’ts that will single out the world’s most iconic web giants as internet “gatekeepers” subject to special rules.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) has sped through the bloc’s legislative procedures and is designed to protect consumers and give rivals a better chance to survive against the world’s powerful tech juggernauts.

“The agreement ushers in a new era of tech regulation worldwide,” said German MEP Andreas Schwab, who led the negotiations for the European Parliament.

“The Digital Markets Act puts an end to the ever-increasing dominance of Big Tech companies,” he added.

The main point of the law is to avert the years of procedures and court battles needed to punish Big Tech’s monopolistic behavior in which cases can end with huge fines but little change in how the giants do business.

Once implemented, the law will give Brussels unprecedented authority to keep an eye on decisions by the giants, especially when they pull out the checkbook to buy up promising startups.

“The gatekeepers – they now have to take responsibility,” said the EU’s competition supremo Margrethe Vestager.

“A number of things they can do, a number of things they can’t do, and that of course gives everyone a fair chance,” she added.

‘Concrete impacts’

The law contains about 20 rules that in many cases target practices by Big Tech that have gone against the bloc’s rules on competition, but which Brussels has struggled to enforce.

The DMA imposes myriad obligations on Big Tech, including forcing Apple to open up its App Store to alternative payment systems, a demand that the iPhone maker has opposed fiercely, most notably in its feud with Epic games, the maker of Fortnite.

Google will be asked to clearly offer users of Android-run smartphones alternatives to its search engine, the Google Maps app or its Chrome browser.

Apple would also be forced to loosen its grip on the iPhone, with users allowed to uninstall its Safari web browser and other company-imposed apps that users cannot currently delete.

In a statement, Apple swiftly expressed regret over the law, saying it was “concerned that some provisions of the DMA will create unnecessary privacy and security vulnerabilities for our users.”

After a furious campaign by influential MEPs, the law also forces messaging services such as Meta-owned WhatsApp to make themselves available to users on other services such as Signal or Apple’s iMessage, and vice versa.

France, which holds the EU presidency and negotiated on behalf of the bloc’s 27 member states, said the law would deliver “concrete impacts on the lives of European citizens.”

“We are talking about the goods you buy online, the smartphone you use every day, and the services you use every day,” said France’s digital affairs minister, Cedric O.

Stiff fines

Violation of the rules could lead to fines as high as 10% of a company’s annual global sales and even 20% for repeat offenders.

The DMA “will have a profound impact on the way some gatekeepers’ operations are currently conducted,” said lawyer Katrin Schallenberg, a partner at Clifford Chance.

“Clearly, companies affected … are already working on ways to comply with or even challenge the regulation,” she added.

The Big Tech companies have lobbied hard against the new rules and the firms have been defended in Washington, where it is alleged that the new law unfairly targets U.S. companies.

With the deal now reached by negotiators, the DMA now faces final votes in a full session of the European Parliament as well as by ministers from the EU’s 27 member states.

The rules could come into place starting Jan. 1, 2023, though tech companies are asking for more time to implement the law. 

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Russian Agents Charged With Targeting US Nuclear Plant, Saudi Oil Refinery

U.S. and British officials on Thursday accused the Russian government of running a yearslong campaign to hack into critical infrastructure, including an American nuclear plant and a Saudi oil refinery.

The announcement was paired with the unsealing of criminal charges against four Russian government officials, whom the U.S. Department of Justice accused of carrying out two major hacking operations aimed at the global energy sector. Thousands of computers in 135 countries were affected between 2012 and 2018, U.S. prosecutors said.

Cybersecurity analysts described the moves as a shot across the bow to Moscow after U.S. President Joe Biden had warned just days ago about “evolving intelligence” that the Russian government might be preparing cyberattacks against American targets.

John Hultquist, whose firm Mandiant investigated the Saudi refinery hack, said that by making the criminal charges public, the United States “let them know that we know who they are.”

In one of the two indictments unsealed on Thursday and dated June 2021, the Justice Department accused Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh, a 36-year-old Russian Ministry of Defense research institute employee, of conspiring with others between May and September 2017 to hack the systems of a foreign refinery and install malware known as “Triton” on a safety system produced by Schneider Electric SE.

The refinery wasn’t named, but the British government said it was in Saudi Arabia and had previously been identified as the Petro Rabigh refinery complex on the Red Sea coast.

In a second indictment, dated August 2021, the Justice Department said three other suspected hackers from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) carried out cyberattacks on the computer networks of oil and gas firms, nuclear power plants, and utility and power transmission companies between 2012 and 2017 — a campaign researchers have long attributed to a group sometimes dubbed “Energetic Bear” or “Berserk Bear.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The three accused Russians in the second case are Pavel Aleksandrovich Akulov, 36, Mikhail Mikhailovich Gavrilov, 42, and Marat Valeryevich Tyukov, 39. None of the four defendants have been arrested, a U.S. official said.

Britain’s Foreign Office said that the FSB hackers targeted the systems controlling the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Kansas “but failed to have any negative impact.”

“Russia’s targeting of critical national infrastructure is calculated and dangerous,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement. She said it showed Russian President Vladimir Putin “is prepared to risk lives to sow division and confusion among allies.”

A Justice Department official told reporters that even though the hacking at issue in the two cases occurred years ago, investigators remained concerned Russia will carry out similar attacks in future.

“These charges show the dark art of the possible when it comes to critical infrastructure,” the official said.

The official added that the department decided to unseal the indictments because they determined the “benefit of revealing the results of the investigation now outweighs the likelihood of arrests in the future.”

The 2017 Saudi refinery attack stunned the cybersecurity community when it was made public by researchers later that year. Unlike typical digital intrusions aimed at stealing data or holding it for ransom, the attack appeared aimed at causing physical damage to the facility itself by disabling its safety system. U.S. officials have been tracking the case ever since.

In 2019, those behind Triton were reported to be scanning and probing at least 20 electric utilities in the United States for vulnerabilities.

Two weeks before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the Russian government-backed Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics. Prosecutors believe Gladkikh worked there. On Thursday, British officials also announced sanctions on the institute.

The Foreign Office said FSB hackers had targeted British energy companies and had successfully stolen data from the U.S. aviation sector. It also accused the hackers of trying to compromise an employee of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who fell afoul of the Kremlin and now lives in London.