When in Drought, Ancestral Puebloans Turned to Ice Blocks in Lava Tubes

Natural and political disasters in Central America

t is a month since Central America was hit in quick succession by two hurricanes. Parts of northern Honduras are still under water: 50 bridges are down, and 120 roads and many hospitals and schools are still flooded. In all, some 200 people died and 7m were affected by the storms, most of them in Honduras and Guatemala, according to the un. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed, and perhaps 175,000 people are living in makeshift shelters.

The hurricanes came at a bad time, amid the pandemic and its economic slump. Whereas in Guatemala and Nicaragua they struck rural areas, in Honduras they devastated the Sula valley, the country’s economic heartland. The Honduran economy was already set to shrink by 7%, and unemployment had soared. Honduras, a country of 10m people, “is now facing the greatest catastrophe in its history”, says Gina Kawas, a consultant at the Central American Bank for Economic Integration who is based in Tegucigalpa, the capital. Total damage is equivalent to 40% of gdp…

When in Drought, Ancestral Puebloans Turned to Ice Blocks in Lava Tubes

THE TRAIL NETWORKS CRISSCROSSING EL Malpais National Monument are often marked with lava cairns, rocky reminders of the arid New Mexican park’s previously volcanic life. Below the monument’s striking surface are numerous corridors—close to 500 lava tubes, formed when searing channels of liquid rock made trails through the land.

Recently, one of those tubes gave up a secret, tucked away in ice nearly 50 feet underground, a mile and a half above sea level. The mystery was how ancestral Puebloans survived droughts, and it was solved in an ice core about two feet long.

A team including an archaeologist and climate scientists from the National Park Service, which manages the monument, was inspecting an ice deposit at the end of a lava tube to better understand the ancient climate. The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, National Park Service, and the Western Park Association, sought to unpack any secrets in the ice block, which has been melting at an alarming clip in recent years. In that process, the team came across evidence of past perseverance by local peoples to endure their own climate crises…

Top Science Photos From 2020: Natural Disasters, CRISPR Squids and an Interstellar Visitor

(Credit: Noah Berger/AP images)

A look back at an unprecedented year…

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