Fossil of 8ft-long ichthyosaurus preserved for 180 million years tipped to sell for over £500,000

The complete fossil of a 180 million-year-old marine reptile is tipped to sell for over £500,000 at auction.

It is the skeleton of an ichthyosaur – a Jurassic predator approximately eight feet (2.4 m) long – and had been preserved in soft carbonate mud prior to its excavation.

This specimen was discovered in a geological formation in Lorraine, France in the early 2000s, during the construction of the high-speed TGV rail line.

As the majority of complete ichthyosaur fossils belong to museums, those that appear on the private market usually command high prices.

This one is being sold at Bonhams in Paris on December 13, and is expected to go for hundreds of thousands.

Claudia Florian, consulting director of Bonhams natural history department, said: ‘This skeleton is extremely complete with a total of more than 80 percent original bones.

‘It is the first time that a complete specimen like this, found in France, will be offered at auction.’

She added: ‘Complete and well-preserved specimens are rare.

‘Some of the best-known specimens tend to be flattened in mud-rock deposits, so it is quite rare to find an example, like this one, where the skeleton is not only well-represented but the bones are preserved in three dimensions.’

Ichtyhosaurs – meaning ‘fish lizards’ in Greek – were a species of reptile that thrived in the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods between 252 and 90 million years ago.

Originating from the ocean, they moved onto land before eventually evolving back into water.

They are famous for their fish-like shape, resembling today’s dolphins, but are often misidentified as swimming dinosaurs.

The first complete ichthyosaur skeleton was found at Lyme Regis, Dorset, in 1811 by 12-year-old English palaeontologist Mary Anning.

In 1840, the order ichthyosauria was introduced by English biologist Sir Richard Owen, and today about 80 species are recognised.

The fossil up for auction is one of the most well preserved and fully represented of its kind.

Thousands of bones were individually excavated and rebuilt for its creation, before being mounted on a brass stand.

Ms Florian said: ‘Extraordinary skill and precision not only enabled the extraction of the fossilised bones one by one from its matrix, but also made it possible to rebuild the skeleton in 3D.

‘Only a handful of ichthyosaurs have ever been reconstructed this way.

‘This individual specimen represents more than two years of work by a specialist.

‘This species of ichthyosaur, in particular, the stenopterygius, has not been studied in depth and there is very little literature on it.

‘This sale represents a unique and interesting opportunity for scientific research by a museum or private collector.’

In May, a 139 million-year-old ichthyosaur fossil unearthed in Chile was found to be pregnant with several babies at the time of its death.

The remains of the creature, named Fiona, were unearthed by researchers from a melting glacier deep in Patagonia.

The find added to evidence that ichthyosaurs gave birth to live young, unlike egg-laying dinosaurs.

The first known pregnant ichthyosaur fossil was discovered in 1749 and scientifically described in 1842.

It was the largest complete fossil ever documented at 11 feet (3.5 m) long.

Another ichthyosaur fossil was found in 2021 at the bottom of the Rutland Water reservoir in the Midlands, and was hailed one of the greatest finds in British fossil history.

It was the largest and most complete skeleton found in the UK, at 32 feet (10 metres) in length, with a skull weighing a ton.

A team of palaeontology experts from around UK had to remove the giant skeleton with a tractor.

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  • 2 часа, 44 минуты назад 06.12.2022Science
    Why made-up swear words are ideal around young ears

    Swearing can sometimes seem impossible to avoid, especially after stubbing a toe or discovering a parking ticket.

    But for those times when swearing is not an option, like at work or when in charge of a small child, psychologists may be able to help with some alternatives.

    A new study suggests saying ‘sugar’ instead of the ruder alternative sounds less like a swear word, as does blighter instead of b*gger.

    British people have the right idea when they talk about someone getting a ‘rollicking’ instead of the word which rhymes with it – a b******ing.

    Parents of young children could call someone they dislike a ‘bar steward’ instead of a ‘b*****d.

    And if someone is really irate, the word ‘frigging’ may sound nice and inoffensive.

    The theory behind these alternative swear words comes from a study led by Royal Holloway, University of London.

    Researchers presented 215 people, who each spoke one of six languages, with 80 pairs of made-up words and asked them which was the swear word.

    They discovered words with four golden sounds – an ‘r’, ‘l’, ‘w’ and ‘y’ sound – were not thought to be swear words, in almost two-thirds of cases.

    These soft-sounding letters were found more than twice as often in words used as replacements for swearing, like ‘sugar’, compared to the original swear words.

    Dr Shiri Lev-Ari, first author of the study from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, said: ‘This helps us understand why replacement words like frigging or fricking, which add in an ‘r’ sound to a swear word, are more suitable for polite company.’

    Professor Ryan McKay, senior author of the study, added: ‘If we know these replacements don’t sound like swear words to people, and also contain soothing sounds, they could be useful.

    ‘Maybe these words would be useful during an argument with your other half, while dealing with an agitated child, or during a tense negotiation, because they sound much less aggressive and less emotional than the swear words they are adapted from.’

    The task set to these volunteers was called ‘How good is your sweardar?’

    People heard pairs of words, apparently from another language, but in fact made up.

    Each pair contained one word with a neutral ‘ch’, ‘j’ or ‘ts’ sound, which the researchers’ previous work showed are not found any more or less in swear words than other words.

    The other word in each pair was nearly identical but contained a sound called an ‘approximant’, which is spoken between a small gap in the mouth created by the lips, teeth or tongue’ and creates an ‘r’, ‘l’, ‘w’ and ‘y’ sound.

    These words were decided not to be the swear word 63 per cent of the time.

    It means ‘shut the front door’ is a good alternative to ‘shut the f*** up’, and parents of young children might want to describe mistakes as ‘colk-ups’.

    The researchers analysed 67 popular swear-word replacements, principally from the Oxford English Dictionary.

    They contained 29 approximants, compared to just 12 in the original swear-words.

    The findings suggest the word ‘fecking’, beloved of the Irish and fans of the sitcom Father Ted, still sounds too rude and like a swear word.

    But ‘forking’, as used in the sitcom The Good Place, because people cannot swear in heaven, works well – at least in an American accent.

    Professor McKay said: ‘The exception to this rule about approximants seems to be the rudest word in the universe according to The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy – Belgium.’

  • 4 часа, 44 минуты назад 06.12.2022Science
    More than 2,500 dead endangered seals wash up on Russia’s Caspian coast

    Corpses of more than 2,500 endangered Caspian seals were found on a beach in southern Russia on Sunday, which scientists said died of ‘natural factors’ – but natural resources watchdogs point to natural gas emissions.

    Zaur Gapizov, the head of the Caspian Environmental Protection Center, told The Associated Press the seals likely died a couple of weeks ago and there was no sign they were killed or caught in fishing nets.

    About 700 dead seals were spotted off the coast of the Caspian Sea on Saturday, but in 24 hours, the number dramatically increased.

    Natural resource Svetlana Radionova of the natural resources watchdog agency Rosprirodnadzor said that hypoxia is the most likely cause and that scientists are investigating whether natural gas emissions in the Caspian could account for low oxygen.

    This is not the first mass death of the endangered animal – a similar event happened in December 2021 and these animals were also found to have died of natural factors.

    According to messages on Telegram, bodies were found in different locations, many in the area of Yuzbash and between the mouths of the Sulak and Shurinka rivers.

    Judging by their appearance, the seals died about two weeks ago and there were ‘no signs of violent death, no remains of fishing nets,’ Dagestan’s Ministry of Natural Resources said.

    However, scientists are still examing the bodies.

    Caspian seals were added to the Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008 due to a more than 70 percent population decline in the 20th century, according to IUCN.

    The decline is due to overhunting, habitat degradation and climate change.

    Following this incident, the Dagestan ministry said the overall number of Caspian seals remains stable, ‘ranging from 270,000 to 300,000.’

    A year ago, another mass death of more than 300 Caspian seals occurred.

    According to an eyewitness account, the corpses washed ashore on a stretch of coast near the harbor city of Türkmenbaşy.

    ‘Members of the naval forces recovered many dead seals in January. There were hundreds,’ a Turkmen border guard interviewed by Radio Azatlyk explained.

    ‘In addition, there are many dead fish and birds on the coast […] our superiors require us to stay silent. Scientists from Ashgabat are trying to find out the seals’ cause of death, whether it might be a virus or waste dumped by local factories.’

    An investigation of the corpses found the seals’ organs showed no signs of poisoning by heavy metals or pesticides, said biologist Vyacheslav Bisikov, who was involved in investigations, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

    Experts also analyzed tissue samples, looking for the presence of the coronavirus, which also came up negative.

    Data shows that dead seals have been observed on the coast once every few years, but recently the events have become more frequent.

    Not too far from the gruesome scene on the beach is another mystery of dead monk seals, which are also endangered, washing ashore on coastlines in Hawaii.

    In December 2021, he National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the young female seal found dead on the island of Molokai in September was executed by a gunshot to the head.

    This marked the third confirmed intentional killing of a monk seal on Molokaʻi in 2021, with several other seal deaths investigated on the island this year, and the seventh seal found murdered in the past 10 years.

    An examination of the carcass revealed a bullet fragment in its head, which NOAA says is ‘in association with evidence of severe, lethal trauma.’

    ‘These intentional killings of this endangered species are devastating to the recovery of this population,’ the NOAA statement said.

    Boki Chung, who reported the dead seal to federal authorities, said she was walking down along the south shore near Kawela Stream – just as she had the previous day, according to Honolulu Civil Beat.

    And when Chung spotted a figure in the sand, she took a closer look and was surprised to see the lifeless seal lying in the sand.

    Todd Yamashita, operations manager for the Hawaii Marine Animal Response on Molokai, had been monitoring the one-year-old female, also known as L11, since she was born.

    When Yamashita learned of the seal’s death, he ‘cried on and off for a day.’

    Unfortunately, two other monk seals were murdered by ‘blunt force trauma’ on Molokai in April.

    Both of the seals — a four-year-old male, RJ08, and a three-year-old female, RK92 — were found dead on April 27 on the west side of Molokai, according to officials.

    Post-mortem exam results indicate that both seals died due to human-inflicted trauma.

    ‘There is a strong, deep-rooted tradition of natural resources stewardship on Molokai, and we know that news of these deaths will be keenly felt by many on the island,’ said NOAA Fisheries in a statement posted online.

    ‘We are grateful to the community and our response network partners for assisting with recovery and transportation of the seals.

    ‘We continue to be committed to supporting community-based conservation efforts on the island for these native monk seals.’

    Only a few hundred monk seals are left in the main Hawaiian Islands, and about 1,100 more live in the remote, uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

  • 6 часов, 39 минут назад 06.12.2022Science
    Extraterrestrial nature reserve on Mars that is constructed in a bubble could be a refuge for human

    An ecologist has shared a futuristic idea for when humans colonize Mars – an ‘extraterrestrial nature reserve’ (ETNR) inside an air-locked bubble.

    The ‘forest bubble’ would feature a 50-acre Earth-like ecosystem with trees, wetlands, air currents and atmospheric pressure that would act as a refuge for humans while providing them with food and raw materials.

    Paul Smith, a teacher in the University of Bristol’s civil engineering department, proposed the idea as an alternative to terraforming all of Mars, as transforming the Martian planet could take up to 100 million years.

    Along with providing an oasis for spacefaring heroes, ETNR would give them a sense of living on Earth since that is all humans have known and act as a psychological refuge.

    Terraforming Mars has been a long-held goal of scientists and NASA, which is aiming to put humans on the Red Planet in the next decade.

    Ideas have included putting a magnetic field around Mars, sending genetically engineered organisms and Elon Musk’s theory of nuking the planet.

    While some of the suggestions are outlandish, they would take millions of years to be successful – and this is where Smith’s forest bubble comes in.

    ‘A case is made for developing a contained facsimile, old growth forest on Mars, providing an oasis, proffering vital ecosystem functions (a forest bubble),’ Smith wrote in his study published in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

    ‘It would serve as an extraterrestrial nature reserve (ETNR), psychological refuge and utilitarian botanic garden, supporting species of value to colonists for secondary metabolites (vitamins, flavors, perfumes, medicines, colors and mood enhancers).’

    The bubble would feature a shield to protect against shortwave ultraviolet light, ionizing radiation and meteorites, along with housing positive atmospheric pressure.

    With the atmospheric pressure, weather patterns and artificially generated wind would be inside the air-locked dome.

    High altitude forest canopy, wetlands, hills and other vegetation would line the ground, consisting of modified Mars regolith that includes microbial components.

    Smith notes that the organism would come from Earth and can tolerate ‘local environmental variance and be assembled into a novel, bioregenerative forest ecosystem,’ he shared in the study.

    ‘ETNR designers should consider species as ecological cogs that might be assembled into functional ecosystems.

    ‘Replication of Earth forests is currently unfeasible, but the development of new ecosystems, functioning in unexpected ways, is conceivable.’

    The design would feature some organisms that Smith says are ‘problematic on Earth,’ but have shown the ability to adopt or has terraforming value.

    This echoes research released by the US Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that proposed using organisms with specific genes to create something with certain characteristics.

    For example, it has been theorized that some could be bio-engineered to pull certain gases out of the Martian atmosphere – like carbon dioxide – and create nitrogen and oxygen.

    Both are abundant in Earth’s atmosphere – and would be needed for any humans hoping to breathe on Mars without a spacesuit.

    The ETNR would also feature wetlands, which provide food and clean water for humans on Earth.

    Wetlands are crucial for the water cycle, as they clean and recycle water so biological activity can function correctly.

    And they cycle nutrients in a way other ecosystems cannot.

    ‘The designers’ task is daunting but, if survival of Earth life is to be ensured, challenges must be overcome,’ wrote Smith.

    ‘ETNR design will be inspired by human dependency on ecosystem services, even in purely utilitarian fashion, because, despite technology, that dependence cannot be shed.

    ‘We need plants as chemical factories, producing secondary metabolites with greater ease and more autonomy than industry.

    ‘Ultimately, humans must take Earth’s ecosystem with them, acting as the medium through which it colonizes the planetary archipelago of space.’

  • 6 часов, 44 минуты назад 06.12.2022Science
    Mysterious 80-foot object made of wood emerges during low-tide on Daytona Beach, Florida

    A large mysterious object surfaced on a Florida beach after erosion from two recent hurricanes and rough surf exposed it.

    The unknown object, which is composed of wood and possibly some metal, and is about 80 feet long, first surfaced Thanksgiving week and was noticed by beachgoers and safety workers.

    Numerous theories have circulated on social media about the object – with some claiming it’s part of an ancient shipwreck, others it’s a piece of an old pier and some speculating it’s a chunk of spectator seating that dates back to when NASCAR would race at Daytona Beach.

    ‘It is a mystery,’ Tamra Malphurs, a spokeswoman for Volusia County Beach Safety, told the New York Times. ‘Many people think it is an old ship of some sort.’

    Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, which both walloped the Sunshine State, led to intense erosion at its famous beaches.

    ‘This erosion is unprecedented at this point. We haven’t seen this kind of erosion in a very long time,’ Malphurs told WKMG Orlando. ‘I’ve been on the beach probably 25 years, and that’s the first time I’ve seen it exposed.’

    State archaeologists will investigate the object at low tide tomorrow.

    ‘Every now and then, something pops up, and usually, you can tell what it is. This one, you just can’t confirm,’ Malphurs told the Times.

    ‘There could be some kind of metal there,’ she added. ‘We are not positive.’

    Residents expressed a few ideas on social media about the object’s possible origins.

    ‘Too straight and narrow for a boat [in my opinion]. I think it’s old dock or boardwalk,’ a commenter wrote beneath a news article from Click Orlando.

    ‘I saw that a few days ago. It is probably an old ship that was shipwrecked. Very interesting,’ a Facebook commenter wrote.

    All sorts of strange objects have emerged on Florida beaches in the past.

    In November of 2020, a shipwreck that could date to the 1800s was seen after Tropical Storm Eta eroded sane dunes in St. Augustine, Florida.

    Experts at the time believe it was the remnants of a 317-ton U.S. merchant ship known as Caroline Eddy probably carrying a cargo of flour or hardware.

    ‘Everything we’ve seen on it so far fits that hypothesis; wooden planking, wood timbers, iron fasteners,’ St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) Director Chuck Meide said in the statement at the time. ‘They look quite similar to other ships from the 1800s that we have seen.’

    In August of 2021, a high school student named Nick Amelio found a 1715 Fleet gold coin south of Turtle Trail Beach.

    ‘I thought my crew was pranking me because it was so crazy,’ he told TCPalm.com. ‘But it turned out to be legit.’

    The Florida Department of State’s historical resources and archaeology bureaus receive written records of every artifact salvaged and the state has first dibs on up to 20% of each recovery.

  • 6 часов, 44 минуты назад 06.12.2022Science
    Stretch of molten rock discovered under the surface of Mars could signal there is life underground

    A massive column of molten rock that spans 2,5000 miles wide discovered below the northern plains on Mars could contain the ingredients for ‘alien bugs’ to thrive underground.

    The team notes that microbes on Earth flourish in similar environments and believe it could be the same on Mars.

    Along with being a refuge for life, the molten rock also explains why the marsquakes are detected near this region known as Cerberus Fossae, which is home to the Elysium Planitia volcanic complex.

    Mars is viewed as a cold, barren wasteland that has been ‘dead’ for billions of years, but the new research provides more evidence that the Martian world is ‘very much alive,’ SWS reports.

    Quakes and volcanic eruptions are happening below the quiet, deceptive surface.

    ‘Our results demonstrate that the interior of Mars is geodynamically active today,’ write planetary geophysicists Adrien Broquet and Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna of the University of Arizona, ‘and imply that volcanism has been driven by mantle plumes from the formation of the Hesperian volcanic provinces and Tharsis is the past to Elysium Planitia today.’

    For how life could be thriving underground, the team said the studied region experienced floods of liquid water in its recent geologic past, though the cause has remained a mystery.

    ‘The same heat from the plume fueling ongoing volcanic and seismic activity could also melt ice to make the floods—and drive chemical reactions that could sustain life deep underground,’ Andrews-Hanna said

    ‘Microbes on Earth flourish in environments like this, and that could be true on Mars, as well,’ Andrews-Hanna said, adding that the discovery goes beyond explaining the enigmatic seismic activity and resurgence in volcanic activity.’

    The team combined orbital observations and geophysical computer models of the fissure system – Cerberus Fossae – which reveal evidence of volcanic surface deposits as young as 5,000 years old.

    The Elysium Mons volcanic complex, which sits within the 800-mile stretch of Cerberus Fossae, harbors molten lava and causes marsquakes to hit the planet.

    ‘Our study presents multiple lines of evidence that reveal the presence of a giant active mantle plume on present-day Mars,’ Broquet said.

    The team used data from NASA’s Insight rover, which first landed on Mars in 2018 and has identified a trove of marsquakes within the Martian surface.

    The Insight team recently determined that nearly all marsquakes emanate from this region, announcing their findings in October.

    These results showed that magma could flow deep below the Martian surface spewed from a volcano in the last 50,000 years.

    Volcanism and earthquakes that occur on Earth are usually associated with shifting plate tectonics, but Mars does not have plate tectonics, and this led the team to theorize the events are a result of a mantle plume.

    Mantle plumes are giant blobs of warm and buoyant rock that rise from deep inside a planet and push through its intermediate layer—the mantle—to reach the base of its crust, causing earthquakes, faulting and volcanic eruptions.

    For example, the island chain of Hawaii formed as the Pacific plate slowly drifted over a mantle plume.

    ‘We have strong evidence for mantle plumes being active on Earth and Venus, but this isn’t expected on a small and supposedly cold world like Mars,’ Andrews-Hanna said. ‘Mars was most active 3 to 4 billion years ago, and the prevailing view is that the planet is essentially dead today.’

    ‘A tremendous amount of volcanic activity early in the planet’s history built the tallest volcanoes in the solar system and blanketed most of the northern hemisphere in volcanic deposits,’ Broquet said. ‘What little activity has occurred in recent history is typically attributed to passive processes on a cooling planet.’

    Taking a deeper look at the features of Elysium Planitia, the team observed the surface had been lifted by more than one mile, which is consistent with the inner workings of a mantle plume.

    And separate measurements showed that the floor of impact craters is tilted in the direction of the plume, further supporting the idea that something pushed the surface up after the craters formed.

    With all evidence pointing to a plume, the team lastly applied a tectonic model to the area, revealing the presence of a giant plume 2,500 miles wide.

    This ‘was the only way to explain the extension responsible for forming the Cerberus Fossae,’ researchers shared in the announcement.

    ‘In terms of what you expect to see with an active mantle plume, Elysium Planitia is checking all the right boxes,’ Broquet said, adding that the finding poses a challenge for models used by planetary scientists to study the thermal evolution of planets.

    ‘This mantle plume has affected an area of Mars roughly equivalent to that of the continental United States. Future studies will have to find a way to account for a very large mantle plume that wasn’t expected to be there.

    ‘We used to think that InSight landed in one of the most geologically boring regions on Mars—a nice flat surface that should be roughly representative of the planet’s lowlands,’ Broquet added. ‘Instead, our study demonstrates that InSight landed right on top of an active plume head.’

    The presence of an active plume will affect interpretations of the seismic data recorded by InSight, which must now take into account the fact that this region is far from normal for Mars.

    ‘Having an active mantle plume on Mars today is a paradigm shift for our understanding of the planet’s geologic evolution,’ Broquet said, ‘similar to when analyses of seismic measurements recorded during the Apollo era demonstrated the moon’s core to be molten.’

  • 8 часов, 33 минуты назад 05.12.2022Science
    How London’s Great Smog of 1952 revolutionised our understanding of air pollution’s impact

    The Great Smog of London — which descended on the capital 70 years ago today — revolutionised our understanding of the health impacts of air pollution, but there is still much work to be done to tackle this problem today. This is the conclusion of public health expert Professor Ian Mudway, who delivered a talk on the Great Smog and our changing understanding of air pollution this evening at London’s Gresham College.

    As Prof. Mudway explained: “We should be immensely grateful that air pollution has declined over the last 70 years. It’s a clear example of how regulation can be applied to improve public health and reduce the burden of chronic disease, but there is still work to be done to drive down emissions and to protect the most vulnerable members of society from harm.”

    The Great Smog of London appeared on December 5, 1952 — the result of a metaphorical “perfect storm” of unusually cold weather, an anticyclone and windless conditions that trapped a blanket of cold, moist air over the capital.

    As Prof. Mudway said: “All the emissions from London’s coal-fired power stations and from every chimney in London slowly accumulated over the city, blanketing the population in a yellow toxic smog.”

    The situation was worsened by poor-quality, sulphur-rich, coal in London, with the country’s high-quality stock shipped overseas in an effort to boost the nation’s post-war economy.

    The fog — even worse than London’s once-customary “pea-soupers”, with their root in the burning of soft coal — reduced visibility down to feet and even penetrated many poorly-insulated indoor areas.

    The impact of the concentrated pollution on the human respiratory tract is believed to have led to some 100,000 falling ill. Worse, many died.

    While official government medical reports released in the weeks following the episode gave estimates of some 4,000 fatalities, research since has suggested that the death toll may actually have been as high as 12,000 individuals.

    Prof. Mudway said: “Thousands died, more fell ill. It is not, on reflection, something to celebrate, but today perhaps what I want to do is memorialise the five days London choked, coughed and sputtered beneath this blanket of pollution and reflect on the human cost.”

    The lessons learnt from the Great Smog, Prof. Mudway added, are often forgotten. Indeed, it is estimated that this year alone some 28,000–36,000 people’s lives will be cut short as a result of poor air quality across the United Kingdom.

    The Great Smog of 1952 was far from the first heightened episode where the impacts of air pollution on human health were noted. In early December 1930, for example, a dense winter fog in the heavily-industrialised Meuse Valley in Belgium, for example, trapped emissions at ground level for five days, making several thousand people ill and causing 63 deaths, principally from respiratory complications.

    The pollution, post-mortem examinations revealed, resulted in the build-up of fluids in the lungs associated with inflammatory cell infiltration and injury to the cells lining the airways.

    Another such episode struck 18 years later in the manufacturing town of Donora, Pennsylvania — 24 miles southeast of Pittsburgh — where weather conditions led to a two-day smog that killed 18 people out of a population of just 18,000.

    Despite these earlier events, Prof. Mudway explained London’s Great Smog “has its place in history for being the first mass population even where the true health impacts of air pollution were studied in detail — albeit, in many respects, largely in retrospect.

    The public health expert said: “What I find amazing is how little attention was paid to the potential health impacts. People were coughing and struggling to breathe in the streets, but the newspapers focused on the economic costs, the associated crime spree — or incidental stories such as the death of livestock at a show at Spitalfields market.

    “Less attention was placed on the added burden on the health service, the mortuaries running out of space, the challenges faced by undertakers processing the large numbers of people dying throughout the city.”

    Despite what Prof. Mudway calls the “common narrative” that it was only the very old — those with significant pre-existing disease — that died, analysis of the data reveals a steep increase in death rates among those over 45 and infants under 12 months as a result of the smog.

    As in the wake of the 1948 Donora smog — which catalysed action towards the establishment of clean air laws in the US — the horror of London’s Great Smog did lead to a beneficial reevaluation of the dangers of urban pollution, with a review led by the English–South African engineer (and founder of the Guiness Book of Records), Sir Hugh Beaver.

    Prof. Mudway added: “The Beaver Committee reported back on November 25, 1954, with a series of recommendations, including ‘radical changes’ — mandated movement toward smokeless fuels, especially in high-population ‘smoke control areas’, a new national policy looking five years ahead, changes to the location of power stations, new equipment and a plea for additional research.

    “These recommendations did not at first make it onto Government business, rather they were taken forward initially as a private members bill, by the rather colourful Conservative politician Gerald Nabarro. This ultimately gained support from the Government, which led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1956.“

    The act — along with its subsequent amendments in both 1968 and 1993 — led to a dramatic improvement in air pollution across the United Kingdom, Prof. Mudway said. And while the issue may have slipped down the priority list in the 70s and 80s, research in the mid-90s out of the US went on to highlight the risks posed by even low levels of particulate air pollution.

    Despite laudable improvements, Prof. Mudway notes that the impacts of air pollution are still evident in our city today. He said: “Air pollution at current levels is still associated with excess death, worsening asthma symptoms, [and] adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

    “Recent evidence has begun to show impacts during pregnancy, impacts on the brain — both in terms of mental health and dementia risk. So, whilst air pollution continues to fall and seems historically low, or low in comparison internationally to other cities, there is still a significant burden and this is felt across the life course from before cradle to near death.”

    In closing, Prof. Mudway said, he’d like to reflect back on an essay — “Fumifugium, or, The inconvenience of the aer and smoak of London dissipated together with some remedies humbly proposed by J.E. esq. to His Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now assembled” — written by the English diarist John Evelyn. He explained: “It makes some prescient statements that remain valid to this day.

    “That to reduce pollution you need cleaner fuels, that vulnerable populations should be separated from the main sources of pollution — not, for example, encouraged to live in high-density blocks adjacent to London’s busiest roads — and that improving London’s environment in the round produces a better, more productive economy.”

    He concluded: “Throughout there is the sense that there is a moral imperative to deliver cleaner air. One might almost, in modern parlance, call it a fundamental human right — as now enshrined by the United Nations.”

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Science Fossil of 8ft-long ichthyosaurus preserved for 180 million years tipped to sell for over £500,000