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March 22, 2018

A floating clump of garbage in the Pacific Ocean has grown to be more than twice the size of Texas, research published Thursday found. That's at least four times larger than previously thought, the researchers noted.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lies between California and Hawaii and comprises at least 79,000 tons of plastic, the study found, spanning across 617,763 square miles. To track the patch's growth, researchers flew over the area and used 18 boats to survey its true size and density.

"Ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially," they concluded. Microplastics, which are tiny fragments of plastics, make up the bulk of the 1.8 trillion pieces of debris in the patch, though the number of fishing nets present has also alarmed scientists, reports The Washington Post. The nets account for at least 46 percent of the patch's mass — a concerning statistic given sea life often become entangled in them.

The size of the patch is not changing as rapidly as is the sheer amount of trash, the study noted. The patch is becoming more dense, as plastics travel from all over the world on ocean currents and settle in the Pacific.

The findings present a daunting challenge to organizations seeking to clean up the mass. The United Nations estimates that there will be more plastic waste in the world's oceans than fish by 2050 without a major reduction in single-use plastic consumption.

Read more about the research at The Guardian. Summer Meza

4:32 p.m.

The Great Barrier Reef may not be so doomed after all.

Hundreds of the Australian reef's coral species are blossoming deeper in the ocean than biologists previously thought, a report published by The Royal Society on Tuesday reveals. Growing further from direct sunlight could save these species from coral bleaching caused by climate change and prove essential for their conservation, Science News says.

The world's largest coral reef has been decimated as climate change warms waters and strips corals of their bright colors, killing them. Deeper-growing corals are safer from climate change, but scientists thought only a few species could grow more than 100 feet from the surface. It turns out 195 species can actually grow in the shady, cold depths and not just near the sun, per the study. So when shallow-water corals die off, scientists might be able to "transplant" these "deep ocean corals" and repopulate the surface, Science News writes.

The study was published just two days after another promising reef report. Though bleaching may severely damage of Great Barrier Reef, corals that survived one season tended to tolerate hotter temperatures the following year, a study published Monday in Nature shows. It's not great that any corals are dying, scientists assure, but at least this suggests the strongest ones will live on and repopulate the reef. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:16 p.m.

The House and Senate are finally tackling a big problem happening in their own halls.

The two chambers on Wednesday agreed on a bill to better handle sexual harassment in Congress, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a co-sponsor of the Senate's version of the bill, tells Politico. Other congressional staffers confirmed the news to The Washington Post and CNN.

Following the #MeToo movement's rise late last year, members of Congress started looking inward at the harassment aides and lawmakers had long faced. The reality became particularly clear after former Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) allegedly used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit, and after he and other lawmakers stepped down after their own sexual harassment scandals.

The House passed its harassment-fighting bill in February, under which lawmakers would be held "personally liable for harassment and discrimination settlements," per Politico. The Senate's latest version only made legislators pay for harassment settlements. Wednesday's compromise agrees on barring legislators from using taxpayer money to settle "harassment and retaliation for harassment claims, but not discrimination," staffers tell Politico.

Opponents of the Senate bill worried accused congressmembers would settle harassment claims as "sex discrimination," per CNN. So Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) say they'll craft a new bill to address discrimination, per Politico. The two chambers hope to pass the still-unfinalized bill within the next few days after working out a few more specifics, Blunt says. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:10 p.m.

For Star Wars fans, the new TV show's latest casting news is a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.

After it was reported that the upcoming live-action series The Mandalorian would star Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), Lucasfilm confirmed the choice on Wednesday and announced seven additional members of the cast, including none other than Werner Herzog. Yes, that Werner Herzog: the 76-year-old German director who might be one of the very last people you'd expect to see cast in a Star Wars project. He's taken some acting roles in the past like in Jack Reacher and had previously been rumored for a part in the series, but while it might have seemed too good (and weird) to be true, it's official now.

Also joining the cast of The Mandalorian is Giancarlo Esposito, best known for playing Gus Fring on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and Carl Weathers, best known for his role as Apollo Creed in the Rocky series. Other members of the cast include Emily Swallow (Supernatural), Gina Carano (Deadpool), Omid Abtahi (American Gods), and Nick Nolte (Affliction).

The Mandalorian is set to follow the adventures of a lone gunfighter, played by Pascal, in the galaxy's outer reaches a few years after the events of 1983's Return of the Jedi. It's currently in production under the stewardship of Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book) and will be an exclusive to the Disney+ streaming service, which launches in late 2019. Brendan Morrow

3:39 p.m.

After Time's person of the year shortlist reminded us all what a decade this year has been, Google is here to hammer that point home even further.

Google on Wednesday released its annual "year in search" list, which takes a look at which topics earned the biggest spike in Google search traffic in 2018 compared to the year before. It reveals that the No. 1 global search trend of the year was the World Cup, which, despite how it might feel, was only five months ago. The next two most popular search topics concern two musicians who died suddenly at a young age: Avicii, who committed suicide in April, and Mac Miller, who died of a drug overdose in September.

Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, who died in November, took the fourth spot, and the fifth is the Marvel Studios' film Black Panther, which was released in February and saw the biggest search spike of any movie in 2018.

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, topped the list of most popular people, followed by singer Demi Lovato, actor Sylvester Stallone, YouTuber Logan Paul, and reality TV star Khloé Kardashian. The World Cup also topped the list of news events, followed by Hurricane Florence, the Mega Millions results, the Royal Wedding, the election results, Hurricane Michael, and Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation.

All of the lists look a bit different when specifically honing in on the U.S., though. The World Cup also had the biggest search spike domestically, but in America, designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain made the top five searches after being further down the list worldwide. The biggest movie in the U.S. was Black Panther, the biggest video game was Fortnite, the biggest TV show was Roseanne, the biggest song was "Bohemian Rhapsody," the biggest athlete was Tristan Thompson, and the biggest politician was Stacey Abrams. Check out the full results at Google. Brendan Morrow

2:39 p.m.

The National Enquirer's publisher is cooperating with New York prosecutors, telling them that it paid one of the women alleging she had an affair with President Trump $150,000 and did so specifically to prevent her from influencing the election.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said Wednesday that prosecutors reached a non-prosecution agreement with American Media, Inc., the Enquirer's publisher, and that as part of this agreement, AMI says it "made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate's presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election," per NBC News.

Karen McDougal, a model, says she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007, which Trump denies. Prosecutors also say AMI has admitted the "principal purpose" of paying McDougal was to "suppress" her story and "prevent it from influencing the election."

This news comes after Trump's ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison in part due to his role in violating campaign finance laws by paying McDougal in order to keep her silent about an alleged affair. Cohen did not pay McDougal directly but rather made arrangements for AMI to purchase the rights to her story but not publish it.

AMI's admission in court stands in contrast to its 2016 statement to The Wall Street Journal: "AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump." Brendan Morrow

2:31 p.m.

If Special Counsel Robert Mueller doesn't release all his dirt on President Trump, Michael Cohen just might do it himself.

Cohen, Trump's former fixer, was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday for financial crimes, many of which also implicated the president. But in the months prior, Cohen spent more than 70 hours cooperating with Mueller's team as it investigates Trump's ties with Russia. And once Mueller "completes his investigation and issues his final report," Cohen plans to "state publicly all he knows about Mr. Trump," Cohen's representative Lanny Davis said in a statement.

Most of Cohen's financial crime charges, which composed the bulk of his sentence, stemmed from his hush money payments to two women on Trump's orders. Cohen acknowledged this and other close work with Trump during Wednesday's sentencing, tearfully saying he felt it was his "duty" to cover up his boss' "dirty deeds."

Just what those deeds are, though, largely remain sealed with Mueller's team. A prosecutor from the special counsel's office did say Wednesday that Cohen provided "valuable information" to the Russia investigation. But judging by just how redacted Mueller's previous reports have been, we'll likely have to wait for Cohen's tell-all to learn more. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:24 p.m.

It has not been a good day for Michael Cohen. The former lawyer and "fixer" for President Trump was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in hush-money payments to two women during the presidential campaign, and for lying to Congress about Trump's business dealings in Russia. But that's not all. In drawings of today's courtroom scene, sketch artist Jane Rosenberg depicted Cohen as a half-human, half-owl creature, looking wracked with guilt that his admissions of wrongdoing have done nothing to assuage.

REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Cohen's head — possibly swollen with self-recrimination and wonder at his fall — is nearly twice the size of that of the attorney at his side. Cohen's eyes seem to be literally sliding from his face, as if mere tears are not enough to convey his sorrow. The sketch seems an homage to Edvard Munch's The Scream (or, at least, to Rosenberg's similarly expressive 2015 work, Tom Brady) — could it be a similar commentary on man's anxiety? Cohen, for one, will soon have plenty of time to ponder the answer. Jacob Lambert

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