What to expect in 2019: science in the new year

Source: Nature

Polar projects
In January, US and UK researchers will descend on Antarctica to begin their largest joint mission to the continent in more than 70 years. The aim of the five-year project is to understand whether the remote and seemingly unstable Thwaites Glacier will start to collapse in the next few decades. It includes efforts to study ocean conditions near the Florida-sized glacier using autonomous underwater vehicles and sensors affixed to seals. Later in 2019, European scientists plan to start drilling into the ice sheet on Antarctica’s Little Dome C in a quest to recover a 1.5-million-year-old ice core. If they’re successful, the core will yield the oldest pristine record of climate and atmospheric conditions.

Big bucks
China could emerge as the world’s biggest spender on research and development, after adjusting for the purchasing power of its currency, once countries publish their 2018 spending data in late 2019. Outlays on science in China have accelerated since 2003, although the country still trails behind the United States on measures of research quality. Over in Europe, officials will try to agree on how to disburse a proposed €100 billion (US$110 billion) through the European Union’s next research-funding programme, Horizon Europe, which begins in 2021. It’s unclear how fully UK researchers will be able to participate, as uncertainty over Brexit continues to plague the country.

Human origins
More fossils illuminating the origins of ancient hominin species could emerge from islands in southeast Asia — a region of intense interest since archaeologists discovered a human-like ‘hobbit’ species on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. Ongoing digs could reveal more about the first human inhabitants of the Philippine island of Luzon, including whether their isolation led to a diminutive stature, similar to what seems to have occurred on Flores.