Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Welcome

I'm a science journalist, living and working from my home in Pemberton, BC, Canada. My academic background is in chemistry and oceanography, but I write across all the physical sciences, from anthropology to quantum physics, with climate change and the environment in between. I write (and sometimes edit) for Nature, Yale E360, Hakai magazine, the Pique newspaper, SAPIENS, the New York Times, and more.

I post everything I write, and some of what I edit, here. Enjoy!

TED, 2019: The dangers of a noisy ocean

Friday, June 18, 2021

Science sells NFTs

'Non fungible tokens' are the latest, greatest, collectible digital equivalents of baseball cards made using crypto-technology. Now science has boarded the train.

This month saw sales or auctions of NFTs for: docs relating to two Nobel Laureates from the University of Berkeley; whole genome sequencing packages; augmented reality snaps of Neil Armstrong and various satellites; the original source code for the World Wide Web being typed out; and... a promise to auction up George Church's genome.

All of this is weird, and fun, and wacky, and maybe a little bit serious too...

My story for Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01642-3

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Why you get Zoom fatigue, and how to fix it

I have been fascinated by the changes to my own work practices and relationships thanks to the emergence of Zoom as a more standard communication technique and social norm for business calls. Sure, we have had access to video calling for ages, and I have used it in the past to chat with grandparents and even for a feature or two when I couldn't manage to make a site visit in person. But the pandemic really thrust video conference into the mainstream. For me, that's been great (I talk to many people I have never met every week; seeing them, instead of just hearing them adds a really valuable layer of information to my work, and helps to establish a bond of trust more quickly). For others... not so great. 

Here are some thoughts and interviews on the topic! The promise and perils of life lived online, for Knowable Magazine.

https://knowablemagazine.org/article/technology/2021/the-promise-and-perils-life-lived-online

Monday, May 17, 2021

Nature's place in the race to zero emissions

Here's a piece I had the pleasure of editing for Nature, which attempts to model and quantify how much the natural world (such as forests, seaweeds, etc) can reduce the planet's temperature rise by soaking up CO2.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01241-2

Their conclusion: while natural systems play a big and vital role in the fight against climate change (we can't get to net zero emissions without them), it's actually surprising how little they can pull down the peak temperature if we're aiming to top out at 1.5C temperature rise. The reason: there just isn't enough time for them to have a huge impact. 

So, the authors argue, we should be thinking about the natural world as a long-term solution to climate change, not a short term fix. And that means making sure that these projects are really designed to work well for the climate, biodiversity, and local peoples, over the long haul. Projects to plant trees for their carbon-soaking abilities, for example, should be careful not to destroy valuable natural landscapes in the process, or to upset local livelihoods. They need to be sustainable.


Thursday, May 6, 2021

Blue Carbon Splash

After writing my feature for Yale on blue carbon credits, here's another splash in the world of blue carbon: a mangrove project in Colombia has become first to get credits for a conservation project (rather than restoration) and to account for all the carbon packed deep into the soils beneath mangrove roots. Both of those factors help to make this a massive project, aiming to collect a million credits for a million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next few decades.

https://www.hakaimagazine.com/news/premium-colombian-carbon-credits/

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Blue Carbon Credit Wave

The carbon credit market's trickle of blue is going mainstream: marine-based projects that soak up carbon dioxide from the air into marshes, sea grasses, mangroves, and seaweeds are booming.

My piece for Yale E360 looks at two big trends: a scaling up of mangrove restoration projects, and an expansion of projects into new ecosystem types (like sea grass meadows).

https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-the-market-for-blue-carbon-credits-may-be-poised-to-take-off

The global scope for soaking up carbon isn't massive, but project managers get a lot of bang for their buck by investing in coastal landscapes: they soak up a lot of carbon per unit area, while also protecting shores from storms and floods, boosting biodiversity, and supporting local livelihoods.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Hindsight 2020

Today, March 11, marks one year since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic; and 10 years since the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in Japan. 

Not a particularly auspicious day.

Read my musings about this, and what might come next, on Medium:

https://nicolakimjones.medium.com/pandemic-nuclear-accident-whats-next-6083b6ec49f8

 



Wednesday, March 10, 2021

How to beat a pandemic: a short covid rant

Lately I have been annoyed by the number of news stories claiming to show some simple secret that some country has for successfully stamping out COVID-19. There are no simple lessons or secrets.

Here's my little rant about that, and why we can't expect to figure out "how to beat a pandemic" any time soon (if at all).

https://nicolakimjones.medium.com/stop-blaming-politicians-6e505215314b

Monday, March 8, 2021

Women!

It's women's history month, and international women's day. So it's perhaps interesting to note that Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca --the three powerhouses creating COVID-19 vaccines--all have women at the helm of their vaccine teams. (Thanks to my dad, Colin Jones, for noticing this!)

Let's raise a glass to Kathrin Jansen, Hamilton Bennett, and Sarah Gilbert

Gilbert, by the way, has triplets. 

Of course in 2021 we should not be any more surprised to find 3 women at the helm than 3 men... and yet... it does still seem notable, especially when one contrasts this with the frequently-reported disproportionate hit that the pandemic has made to many women's careers. (I have been lucky, with my husband taking the burden of our childcare and home schooling while I continue to work.) The contrast is interesting.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Human Genome Anniversary

So... back in 1990 the world's scientists embarked on a massive project to sequence the human genome. Officially the project ended in 2003, but the first publication of the draft human genome appeared in Nature on 15 Feb 2001 to great fanfare; this month marked the 20th anniversary of that feat.

To celebrate, Nature published a swath of commentaries and insights about the human genome. I had the pleasure of editing this one: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00314-6

And the anthropology journal I work for, SAPIENS, also hosted a column celebrating not just the human genome but the neanderthal one too, reflecting on what we've learned from both: https://www.sapiens.org/column/field-trips/human-genome-project-neanderthals/

In the Nature paper, the team dove through the landscape of publications on genes and other genetic material to map out how genetics has changed in 20 years. The upshot: 

- research teams have gotten bigger, but the human genome project wasn't actually some weird outlier in terms of team size, as many people believe. It was just part of the overall trend.

- research has been entirely focused on just a tiny subset of 'superstar' genes, and the authors of this piece argue that's inappropriate: it is, they argue, the result of research-begetting-more-research, rather than any intrinsic importance of the genes themselves. The scope should be widened!

- on the other hand, research has also exploded on the non-gene bits of our genome: all the "dark matter" that is actually important to how we operate.

- all the new drugs being licensed are targeted at known genes. That's not necessarily a good thing; it might be a good idea to develop drugs that act on bits of the genome other than genes, since those bits are important too.

I learned a lot from editing these two great pieces; it's amazing how far genetics has come in 20 years, and amazing what lies ahead!


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Beyond The Dig: the true story of Sutton Hoo

If you have seen The Dig on Netflix (a great movie!), check out this amazing piece about the archaeology of the site. I had the great pleasure of commissioning and editing this one for SAPIENS.

https://www.sapiens.org/archaeology/story-sutton-hoo/

Monday, February 15, 2021

Massive Landslide

The town I live in was recently affected by one of Canada's largest-ever landslides: in 2010, the Mount Meager landslide involved an astonishing 45 million cubic meters of debris, and triggered evacuations and flooding concerns in town.

So it was exciting for me to write about another big landslide that nearly went un-noticed in the Canadian wildnerness, but which has had some weird impacts on the local landscape. Read my story in Hakai magazine.

https://www.hakaimagazine.com/news/massive-landslide-cools-fjord/