Genes linked to antibiotic-resistant superbugs found in Arctic

Genes linked to antibiotic-resistant superbugs found in Arctic
Discovery of genes, possibly carried by birds or humans, shows rapid spread of crisis
By Fiona Harvey
Jan 28 2019

Genes associated with antibiotic-resistant superbugs have been discovered in the high Arctic, one of the most remote places on earth, showing the rapid spread and global nature of the resistance problem.

The genes were first identified in a hospital patient in India in 2007-8, then in surface waters in Delhi in 2010, probably carried there by sewage, and are now confirmed in soil samples from Svalbard in the Arctic circle, in a paper in the journal Environment International. They may have been carried by migrating birds or human visitors, but human impact on the area is minimal.

While the genes, called blaNDM-1, have been identified in soil on the Norwegian archipelago, the presence of superbugs has not. The genes can confer on bacteria resistance to carbapenems, which are antibiotics of last resort for the treatment of human diseases.

Antibiotic resistance threatens a global “apocalypse”, England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has warned, and last week the health secretary, Matt Hancock, called it a bigger threat than climate change or warfare. Common operations could become life-threatening and rapidly spreading and evolving diseases could overcome our last medical defences, reversing nearly a century of remarkable progress in human health.

For the study, DNA was extracted from 40 samples of soil at eight locations in Svalbard, and among these a total of 131 antibiotic resistant genes were found. The blaNDM-1 gene was found in more than 60% of the soil cores studied.

This discovery in such a remote region demonstrates the role that poor sanitation can play in generating antibiotic resistance, according to David Graham, a professor of ecosystems engineering at Newcastle University, who led the research team. While efforts to curb the growth of resistance have concentrated on overuse of antibiotics, this research shows there are other pathways by which resistance can be spread, he said.

“What humans have done through excess use of antibiotics is accelerate the rate of evolution, creating resistant strains that never existed before,” he said. Crucially, poor sanitation provides a breeding ground for resistant bacteria that can then spread rapidly.

The research showed the need for a worldwide response to the resistance crisis, said Graham, in place of the piecemeal efforts in some regions to curb overuse of the drugs in human health. “Local strategies can only do so much – we must think more globally,” he said. “The problem will be political.”

Wealthy countries and wealthy people in developing countries who feel insulated from the filthy conditions of the world’s poor may find themselves falling victim to the same superbugs as resistant bacteria evolve rapidly in poor sanitation and can spread far afield. Helen Hamilton, a senior policy analyst at WaterAid, said: “We cannot tackle the rise of antimicrobial resistance without focusing on water, sanitation, hygiene and infection prevention control. In today’s globalised world, a drug-resistant infection in one part of the world will not be constrained by national borders.”

She said the key was to bring better sanitation to developing countries, particularly for medical facilities, of which four in 10 in the developing world lack clean water on-site. This contributes directly to the growth of resistant infections. “We must tackle this silent crisis and make sure every health care facility has clean, safe water, decent toilets and soap and water for handwashing,” she said. “Prevention is the first step to slowing antimicrobial resistance and improving global health security.”

Superbugs kill about 2,000 people in the UK each year, and a further 53,000 people are seriously affected. Last week, the government announced new measures to cut the use of antibiotics by 15% in the next five years, through education, preventive measures, more testing, and changing prescribing practices.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Crusher of Sacred Cows

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Crusher of Sacred Cows
With its silly swipes at AOC, the American political establishment is once again revealing its blindness to its own unpopularity
By Matt Taibbi
Jan 21 2019

One of the first things you learn covering American politicians is that they’re not terribly bright.

The notion that Hill denizens are brilliant 4-D chess players is pure myth, the product of too many press hagiographies of the Game Change variety and too many Hollywood fantasies like House of Cards and West Wing.

The average American politician would lose at checkers to a zoo gorilla. They’re usually in office for one reason: someone with money sent them there, often to vote yes on a key appropriation bill or two. On the other 364 days of the year, their job is to shut their yaps and approximate gravitas anytime they’re in range of C-SPAN cameras.

Too many hacks float to the capital on beds of national committee money and other donor largesse, but then — once they get behind that desk and sit between those big flags — start thinking they’re actually beloved tribunes of the people, whose opinions on all things are eagerly desired.

So they talk. What do they talk about? To the consternation of donors, all kinds of stuff. Remember Ted Stevens explaining that the Internet “is not a big truck”? How about Hank Johnson worrying that Guam would become so overpopulated it would “tip over and capsize”? How about Oklahoma Republican Jim Bridenstine noting that just because the Supreme Court rules on something, that “doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s constitutional”?

There’s a reason aides try to keep their bosses away from microphones, particularly when there’s a potential for a question of SAT-or-higher level difficulty in the interview. But the subject elected officials have the most trouble staying away from is each other.

We’ve seen this a lot in recent weeks with the ongoing freakout over newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Lest anyone think any of the above applies to “AOC,” who’s also had a lot to say since arriving in Washington, remember: she won in spiteof the party and big donors, not because of them.

That doesn’t make anything she says inherently more or less correct. But it changes the dynamic a bit. All of AOC’s supporters sent her to Washington precisely to make noise. There isn’t a cabal of key donors standing behind her, cringing every time she talks about the Pentagon budget. She is there to be a pain in the ass, and it’s working. Virtually the entire spectrum of Washington officialdom has responded to her with horror and anguish.

The mortification on the Republican side has come more from media figures than actual elected officials. Still, there are plenty of people like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) doing things like denouncing “this girl, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whatever she is” for preaching “socialism wrapped in ignorance.” A group of GOP House members booed her on the floor, to which she replied, “Don’t hate me cause you ain’t me, fellas.”

The Beltway press mostly can’t stand her. A common theme is that, as a self-proclaimed socialist, she should be roaming the halls of Rayburn and Cannon in rags or a barrel. Washington Examiner reporter Eddie Scarry tweeted a photo of her in a suit, saying she didn’t look like “a girl who struggles.”

High priest of conventional wisdom Chris Cillizza, with breathtaking predictability, penned a column comparing her to Donald Trump. He noted the social media profiles of both allow them to “end-run the so-called ‘media filter’ and deliver their preferred message… directly to supporters.”

The latter issue, of course, is the real problem most of Washington has with “AOC”: her self-generated popularity and large social media presence mean she doesn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to say anything.

She doesn’t have to run things by donors and she doesn’t need the assent of thinkfluencers like Cillizza or Max Boot (who similarly compared her to both Trump and Sarah Palin), because she almost certainly gains popularity every time one of those nitwits takes a swipe at her.

Which brings us to elected Democrats, who if anything have been most demonstrative in their AOC freakout. We had Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) saying, “We don’t need your sniping in our Democratic caucus.” Recently ousted Sen. Claire McCaskill expressed alarm that she’s “the thing” and a “bright shiny new object.”

This is in addition to the litany of anonymous complaints from fellow caucus members, some of whom felt she jumped the line in an attempt to get a Ways and Means committee assignment. There were whispers she did this through some online-pressure sorcery she alone could avail herself of thanks to her massive Twitter following (nearly every news story about Ocasio-Cortez mentions her 2.47 million Twitter followers).

“It totally pissed off everyone,” one senior House Democrat said about the Ways and Means campaign. “You don’t get picked for committees by who your grass-roots [supporters] are.”


It’s Now Clear None of the Supposed Benefits of Killing Net Neutrality Are Real

It’s Now Clear None of the Supposed Benefits of Killing Net Neutrality Are Real
Network investment is down, layoffs abound, and networks are falling apart. This isn’t the glorious future Ajit Pai promised.
By Karl Bode
Jan 24 2019

In the months leading up to the FCC assault on net neutrality, big telecom and FCC boss Ajit Pai told anybody who’d listen that killing net neutrality would boost broadband industry investment, spark job creation, and drive broadband into underserved areas at an unprecedented rate.

As it turns out, none of those promises were actually true.

Despite the FCC voting to kill the popular consumer protections late last year, Comcast’s latest earnings report indicates that the cable giant’s capital expenditures (CAPEX) for 2018 actually decreased 3 percent. The revelation comes on the heels by similar statements by Verizon and Charter Spectrum that they’d also be seeing lower network investment numbers in 2018. 

It’s not expected to get any better in 2019.

According to analysis this week by Wall Street research firm MoffettNathanson, capital spending among the nation’s four biggest cable providers (Altice, Comcast, Charter Spectrum, CableONE) is expected to decline upwards of 5.8 percent this year. 

Phone companies (AT&T, Verizon) are similarly expected to see their wireline capex fall from $20.3 billion in 2018 to $19.6 billion this year, notes the firm. And while investment in wireless is expected to jump slightly thanks to fifth generation (5G) investment, there too analysts have noted that overall investment is notably more sluggish than many had predicted.

The FCC did not respond to a request for comment on why its predictions have been so decidedly inaccurate. 

Meanwhile, none of this comes as much of a surprise to those well versed in the net neutrality fight. 

While the FCC and telecom sector repeatedly tried to claim that net neutrality rules stifled network investment, SEC filings, earnings reports, and even dozens of public statements made by countless CEOs easily disproved those claims. That didn’t stop either Pai or the telecom sector from repeating the claims countless times over a two-year span.

Gigi Sohn, a former FCC lawyer who helped craft the agency’s net neutrality rules, told Motherboard that the repeal of net neutrality (and the Title II classification of ISPs that legally underpinned the protections) was based on little more than fluff and nonsense. 

“The cornerstone of Ajit Pai’s net neutrality repeal order has quickly crumbled,” Sohn told me in an email.

“The broadband industry’s reduction in investment and CAPEX in the wake of Ajit Pai’s repeal of the net neutrality rules proves what advocates for Internet openness have known all along—neither the rules nor Title II authority had any effect on broadband investment.”

Sohn told me telecom investment decisions are based on a wide variety of factors including technological advancement, the economy, and the level of competition an ISP sees in its market. Given huge swaths of America only have the choice of one ISP to choose from, there’s little pressuring them to put soaring profits back into the network or customer service.

And that’s the problem. Net neutrality violations and other bad behaviors by big telecom are just a symptom of a lack of vibrant competition. But the Pai FCC has routinely worked to downplay this problem, even to the point of trying to weaken the very definition of the word “competition” to the exclusive benefit of entrenched ISPs. 

Instead, the focus for the Trump administration has been to dole out billions in tax cuts, subsidies, and regulatory favors to giant telecom operators, who in turn routinely promise job growth, network investment, and better service that never actually materializes.

Motherboard has exclusively reported how AT&T is prepping another major round of layoffs despite netting nearly $20 billion from the Trump tax cuts. And Verizon this week said it would be cutting 7 Percent of its media staff—on the heels of a 10,000 employee “voluntary” severance package—despite its own mammoth windfall of government favors. 

Other ISPs, like Frontier Communications, have been literally letting their networks fall apart in many states, despite millions in taxpayer subsidies and repeated allegations of fraud. These are problems that were never going to be solved by killing popular consumer protections. 

While this kind of pay to play dysfunction is widespread in telecom, the assault on net neutrality was among the most obvious examples of government kowtowing to natural monopolies, say consumer groups.


The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite

The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite
By Kevin Roose
Jan 25 2019

DAVOS, Switzerland — They’ll never admit it in public, but many of your bosses want machines to replace you as soon as possible.

I know this because, for the past week, I’ve been mingling with corporate executives at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. And I’ve noticed that their answers to questions about automation depend very much on who is listening.

In public, many executives wring their hands over the negative consequences that artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers. They take part in panel discussions about building “human-centered A.I.” for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” — Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology — and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.

But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

All over the world, executives are spending billions of dollars to transform their businesses into lean, digitized, highly automated operations. They crave the fat profit margins automation can deliver, and they see A.I. as a golden ticket to savings, perhaps by letting them whittle departments with thousands of workers down to just a few dozen.

“People are looking to achieve very big numbers,” said Mohit Joshi, the president of Infosys, a technology and consulting firm that helps other businesses automate their operations. “Earlier they had incremental, 5 to 10 percent goals in reducing their work force. Now they’re saying, ‘Why can’t we do it with 1 percent of the people we have?’”

Few American executives will admit wanting to get rid of human workers, a taboo in today’s age of inequality. So they’ve come up with a long list of buzzwords and euphemisms to disguise their intent. Workers aren’t being replaced by machines, they’re being “released” from onerous, repetitive tasks. Companies aren’t laying off workers, they’re “undergoing digital transformation.”

A 2017 survey by Deloitte found that 53 percent of companies had already started to use machines to perform tasks previously done by humans. The figure is expected to climb to 72 percent by next year.

The corporate elite’s A.I. obsession has been lucrative for firms that specialize in “robotic process automation,” or R.P.A. Infosys, which is based in India, reported a 33 percent increase in year-over-year revenue in its digital division. IBM’s “cognitive solutions” unit, which uses A.I. to help businesses increase efficiency, has become the company’s second-largest division, posting $5.5 billion in revenue last quarter. The investment bank UBS projects that the artificial intelligence industry could be worth as much as $180 billion by next year.

Kai-Fu Lee, the author of “AI Superpowers” and a longtime technology executive, predicts that artificial intelligence will eliminate 40 percent of the world’s jobs within 15 years. In an interview, he said that chief executives were under enormous pressure from shareholders and boards to maximize short-term profits, and that the rapid shift toward automation was the inevitable result.

The Milwaukee offices of the Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn, whose chairman has said he plans to replace 80 percent of the company’s workers with robots in five to 10 years.Lauren Justice for The New York Times

“They always say it’s more than the stock price,” he said. “But in the end, if you screw up, you get fired.”

Other experts have predicted that A.I. will create more new jobs than it destroys, and that job losses caused by automation will probably not be catastrophic. They point out that some automation helps workers by improving productivity and freeing them to focus on creative tasks over routine ones.

But at a time of political unrest and anti-elite movements on the progressive left and the nationalist right, it’s probably not surprising that all of this automation is happening quietly, out of public view. In Davos this week, several executives declined to say how much money they had saved by automating jobs previously done by humans. And none were willing to say publicly that replacing human workers is their ultimate goal.

“That’s the great dichotomy,” said Ben Pring, the director of the Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant, a technology services firm. “On one hand,” he said, profit-minded executives “absolutely want to automate as much as they can.”

“On the other hand,” he added, “they’re facing a backlash in civic society.”

For an unvarnished view of how some American leaders talk about automation in private, you have to listen to their counterparts in Asia, who often make no attempt to hide their aims. Terry Gou, the chairman of the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, has said the company plans to replace 80 percent of its workers with robots in the next five to 10 years. Richard Liu, the founder of the Chinese e-commerce company, said at a business conference last year that “I hope my company would be 100 percent automation someday.”

One common argument made by executives is that workers whose jobs are eliminated by automation can be “reskilled” to perform other jobs in an organization. They offer examples like Accenture, which claimed in 2017 to have replaced 17,000 back-office processing jobs without layoffs, by training employees to work elsewhere in the company. In a letter to shareholders last year, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said that more than 16,000 Amazon warehouse workers had received training in high-demand fields like nursing and aircraft mechanics, with the company covering 95 percent of their expenses.


Doomsday clock creators: “We’re playing Russian roulette with humanity”

Doomsday clock creators: “We’re playing Russian roulette with humanity”
The Doomsday Clock is set two minutes from midnight. Here’s why we should be worried.
By Kelsey Piper
Jan 24 2019

Are we dancing on the brink of human extinction? The Doomsday Clock says yes.

Every year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the team behind the Doomsday Clock, updates its symbolic clock to reflect the risks facing humanity. 

In 2018, the clock ticked up to two minutes to midnight — as close as it has ever been to the end of the world, reflecting the increasing threats from climate change, nuclear war, emerging technologies, President Trump’s diplomatic brinksmanship, and the political divisions that make it more challenging to solve any of these. 

In 2019, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists kept the clock there.

“We have not moved the clock hands from the position of last year,” Jerry Brown, the former governor of California and chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said at the press conference announcing where the clock would be set for 2019. “The fact that the hands did not move is bad news indeed.” 

The team emphasized that the fact that the clock didn’t move shouldn’t be taken as a sign of stability — just the opposite. Instead, it reflects a “new abnormal” that we can’t afford to get used to. 

“We’re playing Russian roulette with humanity,” said Brown.

What might kill us?

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by researchers who worked on the atomic bomb. It publishes research on “manmade existential threats such as nuclear war, climate change, and disruptive technologies.” 

All these threats feature in its assessment of how close we are to midnight, and in speeches and an accompanying press release, the Bulletin highlighted how they interact with one another. Political instability, a lack of trust, and an age of disinformation erode the consensus needed to prevent nuclear proliferation, to achieve action on climate change, and to unite in planning for the governance of emerging technologies. 

“In the nuclear realm, the United States abandoned the Iran nuclear deal and announced it would withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), grave steps towards a complete dismantlement of the global arms control process,” the organization warns. 

“The blindness and stupidity of the politicians and their consultants is truly shocking in the face of nuclear catastrophe and danger,” said Brown at the press conference. “The probability is mounting that there will be some kind of nuclear incident that will kill millions, if not initiating a nuclear exchange that will kill billions. It’s late, and it’s getting later, and we’ve got to wake people up.”

On climate change, the Bulletin summed it up like this: “The key measure of improvement on the climate front is the extent of progress toward bringing global net carbon dioxide emissions to zero. On this measure, the countries of the world have failed dismally.” 

Susan Solomon, a professor of environmental studies at MIT, delivered the portion of the Bulletin’s statement that focused on climate change. She warned that not only have we made little progress on the needed emission reductions, but climate denial has maintained its popularity among many of the politicians who should be addressing it. “We’ve moved into a path that will make our future much more dangerous,” she concluded.

Emerging technologies, too, look increasingly threatening. “Chaos reigns in much of the information ecosystem on which modern civilization depends,” writes the Bulletin, and that’s interfering with our ability to address every threat in front of us. 

“The world faces other major threats from disruptive technologies; developments in synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, and cyber sabotage are of particular concern. The velocity of change across these and other technological fronts is extremely high; the international effort to manage these rapid advances has been, to date, grossly insufficient.”


Apple’s Security Expert Joined the ACLU to Tackle ‘Authoritarian Fever’

[Note:  This item comes from friend Steve Schear.  DLH]

Apple’s Security Expert Joined the ACLU to Tackle ‘Authoritarian Fever’
Apple security expert Jon Callas, who helped build protection for billions of computers and smartphones against criminal hackers and government surveillance, is now taking on government and corporate spying in the policy realm.
By Kim Zitter
Jan 22 2019

Jon Callas is an elder statesman in the world of computer security and cryptography. He’s been a vanguard in developing security for mobile communications and email as chief technology officer and co-founder of PGP Corporation—which created Pretty Good Privacy, the first widely available commercial encryption software—and serving the same roles at Silent Circle and Blackphone, touted as the world’s most secure Android phone. 

As a security architect and analyst for Apple computers—he served three stints with the tech giant in 1995-1997, 2009-2011, and 2016-2018—he has played an integral role in helping to develop and assess security for the Mac and iOS operating systems and various components before their release to the public. His last stretch there as manager of a Red Team (red teams hack systems to expose and fix their vulnerabilities) began just after the FBI tried to force the tech giant to undermine security it had spent years developing for its phones to break into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.

But after realizing there’s a limit to the privacy and surveillance issues technology companies can address, Callas decided to tackle the issues from the policy side, accepting a two-year position as senior technology fellow for the American Civil Liberties Union. Callas spoke to Motherboard about government backdoors, the need for tech expertise in policymaking, and what he considers the biggest challenge for the security industry.


MOTHERBOARD: What made you leave Apple to join the ACLU? And why now? 

Jon Callas: The political situation that’s going on all over the world, not just the United States, is that the world has caught what I euphemistically call authoritarian fever. [N]one of us expected the end of 2016 at the beginning of 2016. I’ve come to the conclusion that policy decisions are more important now than they used to be. And a number of my tech friends, including Bruce [Schneier] said that I am uniquely capable of doing things that are good here, and that it is the moment [to do this]. And so I have taken this particular leap because I also believe that this is a moment. If not me, who? And if not now, when? 

What do you hope to do in the policy realm at ACLU that you weren’t able to accomplish as a technologist inside the industry? Will you focus on encryption and backdoors?

I am going to be working a lot on surveillance in general. But surveillance in general is not just an encryption issue, and I even believe [encryption] is the minor part of it. I have been incredibly impressed at the sophistication and skill of the arguments that come from the new generation [of technologists]. I am happy with what the younger generation has been saying. So part of it is I believe that other people can handle the encryption thing [now], and I’m willing to help them. It is many of these other things that I am concerned about more than anything else. 

What kinds of things?

There was the [recent] New York Times article on location data being leaked all over the place [by mobile apps]—that actually is one of my big bugaboos. I really do believe that metadata trumps everything. 

I am [also] really really really concerned about machine learning, both the use of it and the accuracy. It is where I was going to go in Apple [if I had stayed there]. How the hell do we test machine learning systems? How do we know that they are working? And this gets directly to things like surveillance and algorithms. A photo characterizer that runs on my phone and tells me things that are text and things that are wine bottles, it’s ok if that is only 90 percent accurate. [But] it is not okay in a predictive policing situation to be 90 percent correct.

This is the larger reason why I thought that I should get into policy for a while rather than just technology, because there are a whole bunch of things that [we can’t solve through technology] that we have to solve through policy. Imagine there is a magic hacking box that you can plug into someone’s phone; if every cop has one and they can pull you over for your taillight [being] out and get everything that is on your phone, that has a lot of issues that are policy issues. If you look at the policy issues where they get a warrant to go into a room [that has] a whole bunch of filing cabinets what they get to look at is something the policy issues people have dealt with for decades, centuries. We saw a number of those in the news recently where they took files for [President Trump’s lawyer] Michael Cohen. There was a ‘special master’ appointed who was an impartial referee who says, ‘This is relevant and this is not relevant to the investigation.’ A magic hacking box doesn’t have anything like a special master. The policy questions we are getting now are changing now because of technology.

Google announced last year it wouldn’t renew a contract with the Defense Department to develop artificial intelligence to distinguish objects captured in video images taken by drone cameras from people captured in those images. The announcement came after employees voiced objections to the contract. Can employees really have a strong impact on employers or was this a fluke?

I’m glad that the discussion is happening. In my own career in the past when I was young, I made the decision that I would not work on things that killed people. So it meant that I didn’t work on military contracts. [But] then you have the follow-on effects, so I’m working on an operating system and people who make military things are using my operating system is that something that I’m comfortable with or not? I had a very dear friend that I worked with and she left high tech completely because she was not comfortable with the way that the things she was doing were being used by the military industrial complex. We tech people have a tendency to assume that there are no consequences to what we do.


We’re Sitting on a Groundwater ‘Time Bomb,’ Scientists Warn

We’re Sitting on a Groundwater ‘Time Bomb,’ Scientists Warn
Climate change could disrupt nearly half of the world’s groundwater supply within 100 years.
By Becky Ferreira
Jan 22 2019

Many harsh realities of climate change are kicking in around the world, including extreme weather and sea level rise. But scientists now warn that there’s an overlooked “time bomb” on the horizon as temperatures warm—the global groundwater supply. 

Groundwater is moisture in soil and rock, fed by precipitation and stored in aquifers. It is the largest source of freshwater on Earth, and supplies two billion people with water for drinking and crop production.

But over the next 100 years, climate-related rainfall changes could disrupt the process of “recharge,” the term for groundwater replenishment, in an estimated 44 percent of aquifers on the planet, according to a study published Monday in Nature Climate Change. 

That means nearly half of the planet’s aquifers are projected to be depleted to varying degrees within a century, which could reduce water access for millions of people. Climate change will also interfere with the remaining aquifers on timescales longer than a century, said the authors, led by Mark Cuthbert, a groundwater expert at Cardiff University.

“The effect we are having now is going to have this really long lag-time in terms of climate change,” Cuthbert told AFP. 

“This could be described as an environmental time bomb because any climate change impacts on recharge occurring now, will only fully impact the baseflow to rivers and wetlands a long time later,” he said. 

Cuthbert and his colleagues mapped out the global groundwater supply and modeled regional responses to climate change over various timescales. The team called the variations in response time “hydraulic memory.” 

They found that humid areas, like the Amazon Basin or the Florida Everglades, are more likely to be sensitive to recharge problems in the short term. Aquifers in arid areas, like the Sahara Desert, have a long hydraulic memory and may take millennia to respond to current climate shifts.

It may seem counterintuitive that groundwater aquifers in arid regions, which are by definition parched, are less sensitive to climate change. But according to Cuthbert’s team, extreme flooding and drought in humid areas has a more immediate effect on aquifers because the water table in those regions is close to the surface. 

Desert aquifers are normally deeper underground, allowing them to remain more independent from changes on the surface (except in areas with heavy irrigation). The downside is that current climate fluctuations could start a slow chain reaction that throws off groundwater recharge patterns in arid regions millennia from now. 

“Parts of the groundwater that’s underneath the Sahara currently is still responding to climate change from 10,000 years ago when it was much wetter there,” Cuthbert said. “We know there are these massive lags.”