Rise of a variant in the U.K.

As you likely know, there are coronavirus variants around the world. Reuters mapped the spread of the Kent variant, which was detected in the English county of Kent.

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Bats and outbreaks

For Reuters, Julia Janicki and Simon Scarr, with illustrations by Catherine Tai, show why bats make ideal hosts for viruses. They went with the old nature journal aesthetic, which I appreciate.

One reason bats have started outbreaks is longevity, shown in the chart above, which compares mass against lifespan. Bats live a surprisingly long time for their size. Plus, they can fly.

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Social distancing when we’re back in the office

For Reuters, Sarah Slobin and Feilding Cage imagine life back at the office with an interactive game. Navigate through different office scenarios while maintaining social distance:

To understand what that might feel like, we spoke to some experts on work and workspaces who predicted that social distancing measures and hybrid work models are here to stay. Walk through our simulations below to experience what going back to the old/new office might be like. Make sure to avoid contact with others along the way!

I haven’t worked in a proper office in many years, and it never appealed to me, but it sounds pretty nice these days.

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500,000 lives lost, an individual scale

The United States passed the half million mark for confirmed Covid-19 deaths. It’s difficult to imagine 500,000 of anything, let alone deaths in a year, so Reuters used a modified beeswarm chart to show the timeline of events and the individual deaths. Each dot represents a death, and a scaled down version of the chart appears in the top left corner to show where you are in the timeline.

It’s not possible to reflect the true meaning of such a scale through a screen, but the mini-obituaries on the left-hand side help. I had to pause a few times.

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When the U.S. could be vaccinated

For Reuters, Feilding Cage, Chris Canipe and Prasanta Dutta made an interactive that lets you adjust dose rate and state in a simulation to get an estimate for when we might reach herd immunity.

As with any simulation, there are assumptions and simplifications. In this case, the dose rate stays uniform and total population is used, even though there are no vaccines available to children yet. But it’s something.

My main takeaway is that we’re gonna have to be patient (still).

Just speaking to the chart, I like the sketch-ish dashed lines and gradient to show herd immunity ranges. They communicate that things are still uncertain.

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Climate change in 2020

It used to be that climate changed seemed like something far off in the future, like something that would only affect future generations. But it’s looking more urgent these days. For Reuters, Chris Canipe, Matthew Green and Sam Hart show the “fingerprints of climate change” we saw this year.

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Evolution of coronavirus strains

Reuters looked at how seven main strains of the virus evolved around the world:

The analysis shows there are currently seven main strains of the virus. The original strain, detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, is the L strain. The virus then mutated into the S strain at the beginning of 2020. That was followed by V and G strains. Strain G mutated yet further into strains GR, GH and GV. Several other infrequent mutations were collectively grouped together as strain O.

It’s interesting to see the continent multiples. Different approaches to the pandemic led to different rates of mutations and a different spread of strains.

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Tracking world’s biggest iceberg

The world’s biggest iceberg, A68a, is on track to crash into a remote island in the Atlantic. For Reuters, Marco Hernandez and Cassandra Garrison show the path, the scale, and what might happen with A68a:

The iceberg is comparable in size to many well-known islands. A68a is very similar in size and shape to Jamaica, almost as long as the U.S. territory Puerto Rico, and dwarfs China’s Hong Kong Island as well as the Southeast Asian city state of Singapore.

Observers from the British Antarctic Survey told media that a flight last year over the A68a took about one and a half hours. The berg is so big, Royal Air Force pilots this week were unable to capture it all in one, single photograph.

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Smoke from the U.S. West Coast travels east and overseas

Smoke from the wildfires made its way to the other side of the country and over the ocean. Using data from NOAA, Reuters animated the smoke clouds over time:

With climate change expected to exacerbate fires in the future, by worsening droughts and warming surface ocean temperatures, wildfire research is becoming especially important. Over the last year, the world has seen record fires in Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Siberia and now the U.S. West.

“I’m concerned that we are starting to see these phenomena more often … everywhere in the world,” Gassó said. “If it’s one year like this, it’s fine, as long as it doesn’t keep repeating itself like this.”

Uh oh.

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Scale of the explosion in Beirut

There was an explosion in Beirut. It was big. How big? Marco Hernandez and Simon Scarr for Reuters provide a sense of scale:

George William Herbert, an adjunct professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies Center for Nonproliferation Studies and a missile and effects consultant, used two methods to estimate the yield of the explosion. One used visual evidence of the blast itself along with damage assessments. The other calculation was based on the amount of ammonium nitrate reportedly at the source of the explosion.

Both techniques estimate the yield as a few hundred tons of TNT equivalent, with the overlap being 200 to 300, Herbert told Reuters.

It starts with a Hellfire Missle, which is 0.01 tons. Then it just keeps going.

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