British Armed Forces played a major role in the Afghanistan
War, second only to the
U.S. in terms of troop numbers. Between
2001 and 2010, over 325 British forces personnel and MOD civilians were
killed, exceeding the death toll of the Falklands War, with some 4,000
injured. A phased withdrawal began from 2011, with a gradual transition of districts
and provinces which saw Afghan forces slowly taking over the security operations. The last remaining British troops would be gone by 2014.*
is devastated by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami
11th March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami hit the
east of Japan, killing nearly 16,000 and leaving another 2,600 missing.
Tsunami warnings were issued in 50 nations and territories, while
emergencies were declared at four nuclear power plants.
The earthquake was the most powerful ever known to hit Japan, and among the
five most powerful in the world since modern record-keeping began in
1900. It triggered extremely destructive tsunami waves, in some
cases travelling up to 10 km (6 mi) inland. The earthquake moved the
entire Honshu region 2.4 m (8 ft) east and shifted the Earth on its
axis by 10 cm (4 in).
as loss of life and destruction of infrastructure, the tsunami caused
several nuclear incidents. By far the most serious was a level 7
event and 20 km (12 mi) evacuation zone around the Fukushima I Plant.
This became the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.*
cost exceeded $300 bn, making it the most expensive natural disaster
on record. Over 125,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed, while heavy
damage was inflicted on roads and rail routes. 4.4 million households
in northeastern Japan were left without electricity and 1.5 million without
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, "In the 65 years after the end of
World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for
Japan." The Bank of Japan offered ¥15 trillion (US$183 bn)
to the banking system in an effort to normalise market conditions.
on the wider global economy was considerable – but would only truly
be felt in July 2011, when the next quarterly earnings figures were
released. These showed huge losses due to supply chain disruptions,
exacerbated by rising commodity prices.*
earthquake and tsunami | Credit: US
death of Osama bin Laden
the attacks of September 11th – which he had largely masterminded – Osama
bin Laden became the most internationally hunted fugitive in history.
Aside from occasional videos of him living in unidentifiable wilderness locations,
he essentially vanished off the radar. After a decade of false
leads and high body counts, many began to think the search was hopeless.
this time, however, the CIA had been working to identify any possible
couriers of bin Laden, and, in 2007, one was positively identified and
then tracked. In 2010, a wire-tapped conversation between the courier
– commonly referred to as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and another man – helped
the CIA to deduce the precise location of bin Laden's compound, which was in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
months of gathering intelligence, it was decided that a mission could
be carried out to either capture or kill bin Laden. Operation Neptune
Spear was conducted on 2nd May 2011 by a team of 79 Navy SEAL commandos
after the go-ahead was given by Barack Obama. A complex raid on the
compound was carried out with SEALs approaching from all sides and
from a helicopter hovering above the roof. The team was met with some
resistance, but overcame the al-Qaeda operatives defending the building.
After four others were killed (including the courier), the SEAL team
discovered bin-Laden inside the house in his sleeping quarters. After
a short confrontation, he was shot once in the chest and again above
operatives were killed in the raid, but a helicopter was crashed and
had to be destroyed in order to cover up top secret flight technology. Several
hours later, the news of bin-Laden's death was announced publicly. The
event was heralded around the world as a major blow to al-Qaeda and
one of the most important events of the decade. In America, the public
reaction was extremely positive, with parties and parades actually being
held. This behavior raised eyebrows from other nations however. Some
also questioned the actual impact bin-Laden's death would have on terrorism
and whether the SEALs were right in killing him.
theories regarding the operation quickly sprung up, while the American-Pakistani
relationship came under stress, as many Americans doubted Pakistan's
supposed ignorance of bin-Laden's location. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden's
body was taken by American forces and buried at sea within 24 hours,
in accordance with Muslim tradition.
Aerial view of Osama bin Laden's compound in the Pakistani
city of Abbottabad made by the CIA.
economic crisis in Greece
years, the successive governments of Greece had spent money
they didn't have. These governments took advantage of the good economic
times in the early 2000s to borrow and spend at a greater rate than
taxes were being collected. As a result, the country ran up a massive
deficit, reaching an estimated 13.6% by 2010.*
of the eurozone, this level of deficit spending was outside the EU's
economic regulations. In order to deal with it, Greece continually misreported
its official financial statistics. In fact, the government actually
paid hundreds of millions of dollars to banks such as Goldman Sachs,
specifically to have them initiate baseless financial transactions that
would hide the true level of spending and debt.*
These factors made Greece extremely vulnerable to a financial crisis
– such as the major recession which struck the world in 2007. Subsequent
reductions in Greece's tourism and shipping industries stressed its
economy to near break-point. By 2009, the country had begun to collapse
under its crushing debts, which had grown 20% larger than the entire
economy and were now estimated at over US$410 billion. The banks Greece
had borrowed money from were only making the problem worse. In order to hide
the fact that Greece could soon go bankrupt, they were now charging the nation higher rates when it tried to borrow more.
By 2010, Greece was forced to
ask for outside assistance, revealing the true levels of spending and deficit
that had accumulated. As a result, it was downgraded
to the lowest credit rating in the eurozone. This made it difficult
for the government to receive outside help, with investors viewing the
country as a financial black hole. The EU allowed Greece to borrow from
other European countries as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
in what became the largest bailout package in recent history. In return,
Greece was forced to drastically cut back its spending. Government corruption,
large increases in taxes, and cuts to public social programs resulted
in widespread civil unrest during 2011.*
Credit: Philly boy92 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
world's first synthetic organ transplant
June 2011, surgeons in Sweden carried out the world's first synthetic
organ transplant.* A 36 year old man, suffering
from terminal cancer of the trachea, received a completely new replacement
windpipe. This was achieved with a nanotechnology scaffold made from spongy, flexible polymer and seeded with his own stem cells
in a bioreactor. The
scaffold was based on 3D scans moulded to the exact dimensions of his
trachea. The cells were grown on the scaffold for just two days before
transplantation into the patient. Since the cells used to regenerate
the trachea were the patient's own, there was no chance of rejection
by his immune system.
This was a major breakthrough
in regenerative medicine. Future transplants using this method had the potential to be faster, more efficient and more accessible – requiring no human donation, taking just two days and being customised for a perfect fit. It could particularly benefit
children, for whom trachea donors are less available compared to
Other recent progress in this area of science includes tooth regeneration, synthetic
arteries and the growing of thigh muscles and fingertips. In the 2020s,
more complex organs and body parts will be grown, such as hearts.
Later in the 21st century, entire synthetic humans will become a reality
(though not without controversy).
decades of conflict with the north – in which 1.5 million people died
– South Sudan in 2011 seceded from Sudan, becoming the 193rd country recognised
by the UN and the 54th member state in Africa.*
was held from 9–15th January 2011. The results released on 30th
January were that 98.8% had voted for independence. This led to formal
independence on 9th July, although certain disputes still remained such
as the sharing of oil revenues. An estimated 80% of the oil in the nation
was secured from South Sudan, which would represent amazing economic
potential for one of the world's most deprived areas.
has a population of 8 million. Its capital and largest city is Juba.
It is divided into ten states, corresponding to three historical regions
of the Sudan: Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Greater Upper Nile. Prior to this secession, Sudan was the largest country in Africa, with an area
of 2.5 million km².
Space Shuttle fleet is retired
year saw the last of the Space Shuttle missions to the International
Space Station and the subsequent retirement of the fleet. Two private
companies – SpaceX and Orbital
Sciences Corporation – took over the remaining work, using
cheaper disposable rockets. These would provide cargo delivery
to the ISS up to 2016.
population reaches 7 billion
October 2011, the global population reached 7 billion. Over 74 million
people were now being added to the world each year – equivalent to the
entire population of Turkey. On current trends, the population was forecast
to reach 10 billion by 2100. Most of the increase was coming from high-fertility
nations in sub-Saharan Africa.*
3.0 is widely available
3.0 was the third major revision of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard
for computer connectivity. Transmission speeds of 5 Gbit/s made it 10 times faster than USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/s), greatly
reducing the time required for data transmission while cutting power consumption. It was downward compatible with USB 2.0.
nanometre chips enter mass production
In 2011, Intel began production of a new 22 nanometre (nm) processor. Codenamed
Ivy Bridge, it was the first high-volume chip to use 3D transistors. These new
"Tri-Gate" transistors were a fundamental departure from the
two-dimensional "planar" structure used in the past. They could operate at lower voltage, with lower leakage,
providing an unprecedented combination of improved performance and energy
efficiency. Dramatic innovations across a wide range of electronics – from
computers to cellphones, household appliances to medical devices –
would now be possible.*
robotics are booming
Thanks to falling costs, this year saw major growth in consumer robotics. Between 2008 and 2011, sales of professional
and personal service robots more than doubled, from 5.5 million to over
11.5 million. Initially
popular in Japan, Korea and the Far East, they were now spreading to
many Western homes too. Robots were now available that cleaned carpets and mowed lawns; others
could help busy professionals entertain children or pets; some machines could feed
and bathe the elderly or incapacitated.*
first commercial spaceport
A new chapter in space exploration began in 2011 with the opening
America – the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport.
This was intended to offer sub-orbital spaceflights to the paying public. Costing
over $200 million, the facility was built on 27 square miles (70 km²)
of state-owned desert near Upham, an uninhabited part of New Mexico.
various companies involved was Sir Richard Branson's Virgin
Galactic and "SpaceShipTwo" which had achieved its first glide flight in 2010. Travelling at over 2,600 mph (4,200 km/h), the spacecraft
was designed to carry up to six passengers, to a height of approximately 70
miles (112 km), using a single hybrid rocket motor. When maximum altitude
was reached, the engines would then be switched off, and the passengers could experience
up to six minutes of zero-G whilst looking down on the Earth. Using a feathered re-entry system, feasible due to low speed of re-entry,
SpaceShipTwo could re-enter the atmosphere safely at any angle.
Although Spaceport America officially opened in 2011, the first commercial flight of SpaceShipTwo would not occur until three years later, in 2014.* This would be conducted by Sir Richard Branson himself – along with his two children – in a live televised event. From then on, a fleet of five spaceplanes would offer a private passenger-carrying service to more than 600 individuals who had applied for tickets.
next decade, a new generation of ships would be developed, capable of
higher orbits. Though initially starting at $200,000 each, competition
between space tourism companies would eventually bring down costs, making trips
affordable to middle-income citizens in subsequent decades.
Above: SpaceShipTwo. Its first glide flight was achieved in 2010 and first powered flight in 2013.
Three Gorges Dam is fully operational
In planning for nearly a century, and costing almost $30 billion, this became the largest power plant
ever built. The main body of the dam was completed in 2006 and the originally planned components of
the project were finished in 2008. Six additional generators were installed
underground in 2011 – taking its total electric generating capacity
to over 22 gigawatts.
management team and the Chinese state regarded the project as a historic
engineering, social and economic success: a breakthrough in the design
of large turbines and a significant move toward the reduction of greenhouse
gas emissions. It removed some 100 million tonnes of CO2 and 2 million
tonnes of SO2 that would otherwise have been generated by coal-fired
the dam also flooded archaeological and cultural sites, displaced
1.4 million people and caused significant ecological changes, including
an increased risk of landslides. The building of the dam was a
controversial topic, both in China and abroad.*