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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    british airways plane boeing 747

    Transatlantic airline passengers might expect to stay seated with their seatbelts securely fastened more often in the future, according to new research that finds climate change could lead to more airplane turbulence.

    By the middle of the century, turbulence strength over the North Atlantic flight corridor could increase between 10 percent and 40 percent, and turbulence frequency could jump between 40 percent and 170 percent, according to the new study published online today (April 8) in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    The increase could have major implications for the airline industry, as approximately 600 flights a day make the North Atlantic transit from Europe to North America and back.

    The study researchers focused on clear-air turbulence, the sort of bumps that occur even in the absence of clouds or mountains (which can also give airplane passengers a rocky ride). Clear-air turbulence occurs when masses of air moving at different speeds collide in the atmosphere, making it invisible to the naked eye and nearly impossible to detect using radar or satellite. Airplanes spend an estimated 3 percent of their flight time at cruising altitude dealing with clear-air turbulence, and 1 percent of cruising time in clear-air turbulence of moderate intensity or more.

    Clear-air turbulence is associated with major air currents called jet streams, which are expected to get stronger as the globe warms. Researchers Paul Williams of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom and Manoj Joshi of the University of East Anglia wanted to know how climate change might influence turbulence.

    The scientists used computer models to simulate a world where carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaches twice pre-industrial levels. Ice core studies peg these pre-industrial levels at about 278 parts per million. Currently, there are about 396 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

    Focusing on the turbulence-heavy months of December, January and February on the North Atlantic Flight corridor, the researchers found a shift toward more and stronger turbulence, particularly above 50 degrees North latitude, which passes through Canada and southern England, where 61 percent of winter flights fly.

    "We conclude that climate change will lead to bumpier transatlantic flights by the middle of this century, assuming the same flight tracks are used," the researchers wrote.

    As a result, they wrote, flights may have to take more circuitous routes, resulting in longer flight times, more fuel use and thus more emissions that could further fuel climate change.

    Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

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    Robot

    By studying how legged animals move across loose ground, like sand or gravel, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology were able to design a small robot that can run across these squishy, grainy surfaces with optimal efficiency.

    From a practical standpoint this development is important for roboticists and engineers who want to design vehicles, like search-and-rescue robots or future Mars rovers, that can operate at their best speed on off-road environments.

    After all, robots are the future.

    Terradynamics

    Engineers have historically used theories of aero- and hyrdo-dynamics to understand and predict how animals move on solid ground, by measuring lift, drag, and thrust forces. 

    The models not only describe how birds fly through the air or fish swim in the water, it has also helped designers build better airplanes or swimming robots. Basically any vehicles that are meant to go in fluids, like air and water.

    Theories that predict how legged animals and robots move across a granular environment — surfaces made up of lots of small particles like sand and gravel — have proven more difficult than motion through air, water, and flat surfaces.  

    Environments like sand, rubble, snow, grass, or leaves, are more complex than solid ground because legs will sink.  

    Legged animals and robots that move across a granular surface have demonstrated that with each step, each part of the leg "moves through the substrate at a specific depth, orientation and movement of direction, all of which can change over time," according to a study published online Thursday, March 21, in the journal Science.

    The area of terradynamics was developed so that researchers could predict the mobility of devices over these mushy or pebbly materials.   

    Developing a better robot

    One feature that allows animals to move so well is that they have legs that can perform many functions. 

    "Legs allow the animal to climb over ledges, sprint over hard ground, paddle through soft ground and potentially kick through fluids," said Daniel Goldman, assistant physics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

    For this study, researchers started out with a simple toy robot. They took of the legs and replaced them with legs of different shapes that were 3-D printed.

    Each leg is made up of little plate elements. A robotic arm uses a sensor to measure the force of all those little elements, which adds up to give scientists the total force of each leg. All of this is done before the legs are placed on the robot. 

    The researchers can predict the performance of a model by plugging this data, from different-shaped legs, into a special simulation called a multi-body simulation. The model can predict how robots will move over grainy surfaces.

    They learned that "C"-shaped legs worked better than those that are saddle or Pringle-shaped, for example. 

    In the future, this information can help engineers optimize limb shape to create better small robots to explore unknown environments, like Mars, or search-and-rescue missions, where the ground may not be solid.

    In time, we might be able to apply this framework for how little devices move across sand to bigger vehicles, Goldman said.

    SEE ALSO: Apollo-Era Rocket Engines Pulled From The Bottom Of The Atlantic

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    Giant snails

    Florida can't seem to catch a break. 

    First it was giant pythons, now its snails as big as rats that are menacing residents of the sunshine state as the large creatures chomp their way through everything from plaster to concrete, devour a wide variety of plants, and get underfoot.   

    The oversized nuisance has a name: the giant African land snail, or GALS.   

    Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, told Reuters' Barbara Liston that the snail was first spotted in Southern Florida in September 2011, and that close to 120,000 of the slimy creatures have been caught in Miami-Dade County since then. 

    More snails are expected to crawl out from under the earth as Florida's rainy season kicks off over the next two months, Feiber told Reuters.  

    "Scientists consider the giant African land snail to be one of the most damaging snails in the world because it is known to consume at least 500 different types of plants, and can pose a serious health risk to humans,"the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warns on its website

    A parasite known as rat lungworm can be found in the snail's mucus, which could lead to meningitis in humans if it makes its way into your digestive tract — usually from putting your hands in your mouth after coming in contact with the snails. People are strongly advised not to pick up or handle the snails, which can grow up to 8 inches in length and 4 inches wide

    It's illegal to import African land snails into the United States without a permit, but the snails can make their way into the country through luggage or agricultural products.

    There was also one instance, in 1966, when "a boy smuggled three Giant African land snails into Miami as pets,"according to Florida's department of agriculture.

    The snails were released outside. Seven years later those three snails became 18,000 and Florida had to launch a $1 million eradication program. 

    If Florida residents come across a giant African snail, they are urged to contact authorities by emailing a photo for identification.

    SEE ALSO: What America Will Look Like Under 25 Feet Of Seawater

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    Giant African Snail

    New York City has rats; Florida has snails. 

    An invasive species called the giant African land snail has been steadily taking over South Florida's Miami-Dade County ever since one was spotted by a resident in September 2011.  

    The start of Florida's rainy season in a few weeks means that more will soon be coming out.  

    The snail can grow to be the size of the rat, and is particularly annoying because it eats all kinds of plants, as well as building materials like plaster and stucco. It can also carry a parasite that leads to meningitis in humans. 

    The state battled a similar invasion in the 1960s, but the species was thought to have been eliminated. 

    The giant African snail is one of the largest snails in the world.



    Snails are typically only a few inches long, but this one can grow up to 8 inches long and 4 inches wide, or to about the size of a rat.



    The Florida Department of Agriculture considers the giant snail to be one of the most damaging snails in the world for several reasons.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    surfing in Michigan

    Michigan is seeing crazy amounts of flooding this week — and some people are taking advantage of the record-breaking river levels.

    Joe Matulis, who works at Matuli Paddle Surf in East Lansing, Mich., posted pictures this week of himself and friends catching a wave on the Red Cedar River, which runs through the Michigan State University campus.

    His blog said he met some "rad" students who were already taking advantage of the high water levels when he got there. It wasn't the easiest, since the section of the river has lots of submerged rocks. But the surfers got a lot of double-takes from runners near the river and it was a gnarly ride, nonetheless.

    "You cannot surf in East Lansing very often, so it was really fun taking advantage of the flood," he told Business Insider in an email. 

    "When you get a good ride everyone cheers. I can not wait for the wave to work an a football Saturday."

    In Grand Rapids, Mich., a man also was caught surfing the Grand River, according to MLive.com. Police forced him to leave, since the river is reaching dangerous levels.

    Although the surfing stories are a fun twist on the flooding, many rivers across the Midwest are reaching record-breaking flood levels because of intensely heavy rains all week.

    The Grand River is expected to peak above its highest level by Saturday, and the Saginaw and Tittabawassee rivers are much higher than usual as well. Residents in low-lying areas next to rivers in West and central Michigan have been evacuated, with some homes already suffering significant damage.

    (As I'm writing, an eerie photo of a flooded statue in my hometown of Midland, Mich., is the top post on Reddit.) 

    Across Lake Michigan, Indiana and Illinois are experiencing significant flooding as well. A state of emergency was declared in Chicago on Thursday due to the heavy rains and the original McDonald's might be underwater.

    The Mississippi River is expected to hit above flood stage as well.

    Here's a few more photos of the flooding in the Midwest:

    Chicago flooding (1)

    Chicago flooding

    Michigan surfing

    Illinois flooding

    Mississippi flooding

    SEE ALSO: What Marijuana Does To Your Brain And Body

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    Earth Day

    It's Earth Day!

    The tradition of honoring our special blueberry on April 22 has been alive since 1970. 

    Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin organized the first Earth Day 43 years ago in response to the growing assault on the nation's environment. 

    Twenty million Americas participated in the first Earth Day, which helped launch the modern day environmental movement. 

    In December 1970, the U.S. Environmental Agency was created, and for the first time anti-pollution laws were enacted to control the decline of our country's land, air, and water. 

    But there's still work to be done. 

    Around the globe, factories continue to spew toxic sludge into vital waterways, earth is ripped up to feed our energy needs, and entire villages are literally being washed away as a warming planet causes ocean levels to rise. 

    These images serve as a potent reminder of how easy it is to destroy our precious home, and why we need more holidays like Earth Day. 

    A haul truck is loaded with iron ore at a mine Western Australia.



    On July 2, 2007, raging floodwaters led to a significant oil spill at a refinery in southeast Kansas. An aerial view shows the damage.



    An oil-covered brown pelican sits in a pool of oil after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Dragonfly Portrait

    We all have our favorite animals — these are usually soft, cuddly, and are able to show affection with great big licks.

    The beauty of smaller, less fluffy animals, like bees and flies, however, is often unappreciated.

    So in honor of Earth day, we have highlighted the amazing nature macro-photography of Karthik Keyan, of Coimbatore, India, who takes amazing close-up images of birds, spiders, and insects.

    See more of Keyan's images on his Flickr account.

    This mud dauber wasp is carrying wet mud to build its nest.



    A caterpillar resting on a stem.



    A praying mantis chomping down on a spider.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    alaska valdez rogue freak monster waves

    The U.S. Coast Guard announced on Sunday (April 21) that it was suspending the search for four fishermen whose boat is believed to have been destroyed by a rogue wave.

    The 50-foot Nite Owl vessel was tied to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico about 115 miles (185 kilometers) southeast of Galveston, Texas, in rough weather on Friday morning (April 19), according to the Associated Press.

    But in the early morning darkness, "a rogue wave, a freak wave or something hit the side of the boat," John Reynolds, the sole survivor of the accident, told the AP.

    The wave "tore the wheel house and canopy off the boat," Larry Moore, owner of the commercial fishing vessel, told the Beaumont Enterprise from his home in Golden Meadow, La. "Everyone was asleep when it happened." The shattered craft sank within two minutes." [Shipwrecks Gallery: Secrets of the Deep]

    Rogue waves, sometimes called "freak waves," are extremely large waves that occur far out at sea in apparent isolation and without any obvious cause. The waves can easily reach 100 feet (30 meters) or more in height.

    Though researchers have yet to understand how rogue waves develop, some scientists claim atmospheric pressure may play a role. Other research suggests rogue waves could result from the clash of two interacting wave systems traveling perpendicular to each other.

    After a possible rogue wave destroyed the Nite Owl, all five men aboard were thrown into the choppy water without life jackets.

    Though Reynolds tried to help the other men into the life raft he found, his efforts were thwarted by the rough sea's 12-foot (3.7 m) waves and his crewmates' poor swimming ability, he said.

    "I got in the raft. I heard them call out. There was a little ring inside there with a 60-foot line on it," Reynolds told the AP. "I threw it in the direction I heard [a crewmate] hollering from, hoping he could grab ahold of it and pull himself to the life raft. Apparently, he couldn't get ahold of it."

    Reynolds, 56, was rescued by the Coast Guard later that morning after firing flares into the air. Though he has worked as a commercial fisherman for 35 years, Reynolds told the Beaumont Enterprise that this was the first time he had ever ended up in the water.

    Follow Marc Lallanilla on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook& Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

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    snow blizzard midwest east

    Weather Underground meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters points us to the latest study from insurance broker AON Benfeld noting there have now been five weather events that have cost us at least $1 billion.

    Here they are:

    1) Flooding in Indonesia, from Jan 20 to 27, costing $3.31 billion.

    2) Flooding in Australia, from Jan 21 through 30, $2.5 billion.

    3) Winter weather in Europe, from March 12 through 31, $1.8 billion
    .

    4) Drought in Central and Eastern China, Jan 1 through March 31, costing $1.71 billion
    .

    5) Severe winter weather in the Midwest U.S., March 18 to 20, totaling $1 billion.

    As you can see, the U.S. got its first nine-figure-er in March in the form of the early-spring snowstorm that slammed much of the Midwest and parts of the East Coast.

    Flooding in the Plains states in the past week seems like a good candidate for a sixth. 

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    Bradford Pear

    This spring, New Yorkers will have their noses assaulted by an unpleasant odor coming from the army of white-blossom covered trees that line many of the city's streets.  

    These flowers, though lovely in appearance, smell like a mixture of rotting fish and semen, according to a variety of Web reports, and personal accounts from those in our own newsroom. 

    The raunchy-smelling flowers come from the Bradford Pear tree. Their scientific name is Pyrus calleryana.

    The trees were planted all throughout New York in the 1960s because they are hard to kill — they grow fast and can thrive in tough conditions. People also think they are pretty. In the eastern United States, they are considered an invasive species because of their prevalence. 

    The downside, we have learned, is that these hardy "street trees" really stink. 

    3486805490_5bd643fe5a_z

    Urban Dictionary has labeled Bradford Pears the "semen tree," with an equally inappropriate, though colorful, description of their smell, which you can read over there.   

    Everything we smell — from bananas to pine needles — comes from molecules, usually made of volatile chemicals, meaning chemicals that evaporate easily. The molecules evaporate from the food or flower and travel into your nose, where they bind with receptors in our nose. 

    The compounds that make the Bradford Pear tree's flowers smell are likely due to a type of chemical called amines, Dr. Eloy Rodriguez, a professor of plant biology at Cornell University, told Business Insider.  

    We come in contact with the smell of amines every day in the form of body odors, like under the arm pits.

    The fishy odor produced by the Bradford Pear is likely a combination of two amines called trimethylamine and dimethylamine, according to Richard Banick, a botanical manager at Bell Flavors and Fragrances. Although perfumers know what chemicals produce the fishy smell (trimethylamine is often used an indicator of how fresh a fish is) they can't be certain what causes the odor of the Bradford Pear, said Banick.  

    Bradford Pear flowerPlants that produce volatile amines, some that smell like rotting meat, use the gas either to attract flies who will then spread the flower's pollen, or to ward off insects that might want to steal the nectar, said Rodriguez.

    Rodgriquez suspects that the volatile compounds in the Bradford tree are there as attractants, and not necessarily to repel pollinators. 

    Later, the trees produce little green-yellow fruits that you cannot eat.

    So there you have it. The reason New York City smells like one big orgy starting in April is due to little white flowers that produce a scent, which is apparently inviting to other insects.  

    SEE ALSO: Powerful Pictures Of Earth Being Destroyed

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    invasive snakehead fish

    New York City officials are worried that a freaky air-breathing, land-walking (supposedly), invasive species of fish is set to invade Central Park's waterways, potentially wreaking havoc on the local ecosystems.

    The fish is commonly called the snakehead fish and it is a dangerous invasive species. The ugly but successful predator has local environmental officials worried. 

    The northern snakehead (Channa argus) can grow three feet long, can breathe air, eats ravenously, and lays masses of eggs in just a few days.

    Some claim, though others disagree, that this aggressive predator can even wriggle on the ground, effectively making them a dangerous puddle-jumper that can move between lakes.

    But before moving on, they clear a lake of every edible fish. This clip from National Geographic doesn't oversell the disastrous fish:

    The fish hasn't been officially documented in the park's lakes yet, but officials are headed out into the water Wednesday to search for it for the first time since 2011.

    Supposedly, one of the fish had recently shown up in Central Park's Harlem Meer (in the northeast corner of the park between 106th street and 110th street). It has also been seen in Queens.

    This video seems to be the successful capture of a Northern Snakehead from a Central Park pond, according to YouTube uploaderBruce Causier:

    There must be some worry about the fish's presence, because the city has posted warnings around the lake about the fish. They advise that anyone who catches it should not release it back into the water.

    Instead, turn the fish into the authorities or call 311.

    The sign is "just to let people know that this fish is in there, if you find it please do not return it to the water and it also helps people become aware that there are things in the water that should not be there," said Melissa Cohen, Department of Environmental Conservation fisheries manager, told NBC News.

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    NASA Photo of Paluweh volcano, Indonesia

    This is what a volcanic eruption looks like from space.  

    This photo was taken by NASA's LDCM satellite as it floated over the Indonesia's Paluweh volcano on April 29, 2013.

    The LDCM is NASA's eighth satellite in the Landsat series, a program is designed to send satellites around Earth to gather images of natural and human impacts on our planet. Landsat is a collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS).  

    The satellite also has a thermal infrared sensor that can measure changes and differences in heat typically not visible to human eyes. The bright white dot indicates a hot spot surrounded by colder, darker ash clouds, writes NASA.


    Paluweh volcano   Thermal Infrared sensor

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    The Wall Street Journal posted an article Thursday titled "Harrison H. Schmitt and William Happer: In Defense of Carbon Dioxide" in which they claim that raising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will actually help agriculture. 

    They say, "contrary to what some would have us believe, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will benefit the increasing population on the planet by increasing agricultural productivity."

    The article is causing a kerfluffle in the science community. In response, author Shauna Theel, of Media Matters, has an epic take down of the "facts" presented. Her post starts off:

    The Wall Street Journal once again published an op-ed disputing climate science by authors with no peer-reviewed papers on the topic and ties to groups funded by the oil industry. The op-ed argues that we should be "clamoring for more" carbon dioxide because it is a "boon to plant life," ignoring scientific research establishing that our excessive carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly changing the climate, which will have significant negative impacts for plants and humans.

    Theel then goes on to eviscerate everything about the post, from the authors' one-sided view of carbon dioxide to their ties to industry. Her main points:

    • CO2 might be good for plants in a controlled environment, but Earth isn't a controlled environment.
    • The authors ignore negative impacts of increased CO2 in the atmosphere.
    • The authors portray current CO2 levels as "low" compared to 65 million years ago, but very few species alive today were alive when CO2 levels were "high." In truth, CO2 levels are higher now than they have ever been during human history.
    • Contrary to the authors' claims, CO2 levels are actually highly correlated to warming.  
    • Neither of the WSJ authors have written a peer-reviewed paper about climate.
    • Both authors have had ties to the oil industry, a fact not disclosed by the Wall Street Journal.
    • The WSJ has a pattern of slanted coverage of climate change issues — 81% of their op-ed coverage of climate science has been misleading.

    Read all of Theel's evidence in her post at Media Matters >

    SEE ALSO: 16 Irrefutable Signs That Climate Change Is Real

    SEE ALSO: Powerful Pictures Of Earth Being Destroyed

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    cicada

    They're here!

    The first 17-year cicadas from the group known as Brood II were spotted on the Upper West Side on Wednesday, according to the "Swarmageddon" map created by WNYC's RadioLab

    A handful of the grasshopper-looking bugs were seen on West 108th Street near Central ParkDNAinfo's Elizabeth Barber reports. 

    This is only the beginning.   

    The insects, which spend nearly two decades underground, emerge by the millions every 17 years to mate and reproduce. The adult cicadas will die after about six weeks, subsequently sprinkling the ground with their crunchy, lifeless bodies. Meanwhile, the eggs will hatch, drop to the ground, and bury under the soil to begin the 17-year cycle all over again.  

    Manhattan is not a hot spot for cicadas — the bugs will be more populous in suburban areas where there are lots of trees and shrubs for them to feed on — but they are expected to make a relatively strong showing in Central Park and Staten Island

    Cicadas are not a threat to humans — they do not bite — but they can be extremely loud. The males make a loud buzzing noise to attract females.  

    Weary New Yorkers can report and track cicadas using RadioLab's map, embedded below:

    SEE ALSO: Everything You Need To Know About The 17-Year Cicada

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    Yesterday, carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere reached a major milestone: a daily average above 400 parts per million. The new high — the highest in human history — was recorded at two separate stations — one in Hawaii and the other in San Diego, California.

    That number — expressed in parts per million — means that out of a million molecules of "air," about 400 are molecules of carbon dioxide. The measurement at the Mauna Loa, Hawaii air sampling station, which has been tracking carbon dioxide levels since the 1950s, was 400.03 on May 9. Last year at this time, the level was at 396.81. Ten years ago it was 378.50.

    fluctuations in carbon dioxide levels

    These levels are higher than humanity has ever seen. Higher than they have been for at least the last 3 million years.

    "We are creating a prehistoric climate in which human societies will face huge and potentially catastrophic risks," Bob Ward of the London School of Economics and Political Science, told the AFP. "Only by urgently reducing global emissions will we be able to bring carbon dioxide levels down and avoid the full consequences of [global warming]."

    Since the beginning of humanity, up until about 200 years ago, the atmosphere held steady at 275 ppm of carbon dioxide. Along with the industrial revolution came carbon dioxide being pumped into the air, causing a steady and unyielding increase of the green house gas.

    As we plucked carbon out of the ground as coal, then burnt it as fuel and released that carbon into the air as carbon dioxide, we've steadily increased the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere.

    Carbon dioxide is called a greenhouse gas because it locks in heat. This is really important, because without greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, our planet would be a lifeless, icy rock. But, when we accumulate too much of these gasses the planet heats up, which, when done in a short amount of time, leads to drastic changes in the environment — changes that plants and animals can't keep up with.

    "There is no precedent in Earth's history for such an abrupt increase in greenhouse gas concentrations," Michael Mann, of Penn State University, told the AFP. "While living things can adapt to slow changes that took place over tens of millions of years, there is no reason to believe that they — and we — can adapt to changes that are a million years faster than the natural background rates of change."

    The level of carbon dioxide in the air will dip again over the summer, because levels fluctuate during the year — peaking in May and dropping to its minimum levels (last year that was around 390 ppm) in October — after plants spend the summer sucking 10 billion tons of carbon from the air. But, these levels have been increasing about two parts per million every year, so soon the time will come when there is no longer a day with a carbon dioxide reading under 400.

    The milestone is symbolic, but it's also a scary number. According to 350.org, the safe level of carbon dioxide to have in the atmosphere is 350 ppm:

    Unless we are able to rapidly return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.

    "The last time we're confident that CO2 was sustained at these levels is more than 10 million years ago, during the middle of the Miocene period," climate scientist Michael Mann told The Huffington Post. "This was a time when global temperatures were substantially warmer than today, and there was very little ice around anywhere on the planet."

    Governments have set our official targets at a maximum of 450 ppm carbon dioxide in the air. 

    Ralph Keeling, a climate researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography told The New York Times he estimates we will reach that level in "well under" 25 years.

    SEE ALSO: 16 Irrefutable Signs That Climate Change Is Real

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    The Coldest Journey

    It's been a while since we've checked in with The Coldest Journey team, the five-man crew attempting the first crossing of the Antarctic during its winter season

    Without expedition leader Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who was forced to drop out early due to severe frostbite, the team began the 2,000-mile trek toward the end of March.

    For the next three months, they will be submerged in permanent darkness while navigating an "especially inhospitable area of terrain with severe crevassing being exposed in all directions," according to a status update posted to Facebook on Sunday.

    Crevasses are huge cracks in the ice pack where glaciers meet. They can be exceptionally dangerous when they are covered up in thin snow cover.

    Frighteningly, the team's ground-penetrating radar, used to spot giant hidden crevasses, is not working at the moment. 

    The need has never been greater. 

    The team is currently trapped in the "middle of a hideous crevasse field with seemingly bottomless cracks up to 4m (13 feet) across and big enough to swallow a 25-tonne [tractor] without it even touching the sides," operations manager Hugh Bowring writes on The Coldest Journey Facebook Page. "This is a very stressful place to be and it is keeping the Ice Team on their toes at all times," he added. 

    Hopefully the situation will look brighter tomorrow. 

    SEE ALSO: 'Suicidal' Antarctic Journey Reaches First Milestone

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  • 05/15/13--12:22: Mount Everest Is Melting
  • mount everest plane crash

    Earth's global thaw has reached Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak, researchers said today (May 14) at the Meeting of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico.

    Glaciers in the Mount Everest region have shrunk by 13 percent in the last 50 years and the snowline has shifted upward by 590 feet (180 meters), Sudeep Thakuri, a graduate student at the University of Milan in Italy, said in a statement. Located in the Himalaya Mountains on the border between China and Nepal, Everest's summit is 29,029 feet (8,848 m) above sea level.

    Thakuri and his colleagues tracked changes to glaciers, temperatures and precipitation at Everest and the surrounding Sagarmatha National Park. There, glaciers have retreated an average of 1,300 feet (400 m) since 1962, the team found. More recently, precipitation (both snow and rain) has dropped by 3.9 inches (100 millimeters) and temperatures have risen 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) since 1992.

    The researchers suspect that the glacial melting in the Everest region is due to global warming, but they have not yet established a firm connection between the mountains' changes and climate change, Thakuri said in the statement.

    While Everest isn't the only Himalayan region seeing the effects of climate change, not all of the region's glaciers are melting. The Karakoram Mountains, on the China-India-Pakistan border, are holding steady and may even be growing. But shrinking glaciers in the rest of the Himalayas have drawn significant global attention, because the glaciers provide water and power for roughly 1.5 billion people.

    Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskinFollow LiveScience @livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

    Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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    typical canopy

    New pictures claim to show the possible architectural remains of Ciudad Blanca, a mythical "White City" rumored to be buried somewhere deep in the forests of eastern Honduras.

    The 3-D maps are a continuation of a project that made headlines last year when researchers used a special aerial llight radar to survey Honduras' remote Mosquita region, believed to contain the legendary lost city.

    The newly-released, computer-generated images provide more detail of what might lie beneath a nearly impenetrable jungle teeming with snakes, mosquitoes, and other lethal creatures. That could be "cities, villages, roads, canals, ceremonial sites, terraced agricultural land, and more," according to a statement from the American Geophysical Union.

    The legend of Ciudad Blanca

    Ciudad Blanca is a "20th century invention," says Rosemary Joyce, an anthropology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

    The legend was started in the 1920s when Hondurans flying over the forest saw a set of features that they thought looked like gleaming white buildings, Joyce explained. The pilots tried to interpret what they saw using early Spanish sources. At some point, the site was linked to a letter written in 1526 by Spanish explorer Hernan Cortés in which he described hearing news of "very large and wealthy provinces with wealthy lords."

    The myth of "Ciudad Blanca" was born.

    As a result, most reports today wrongly attribute Cortés with "discovering" the unverified city.  

    If you were to fly over Honduras now, you would probably see the stone monuments from early 20th century observations.

    But researchers, hung up on the "Cortés myth," continue to search for Ciudad Blanca, regardless.

    A new way of mapping 

    master graphic copy_Page_2To make the 3-D maps, researchers used LiDAR, or light detection and ranging, a mapping technology that uses a plane to shoot billions of laser beams down into thick forests. The lasers can cut through dense tree cover to get elevation models of geographic features underneath.

    The digital images may show sunken or raised regions of different shapes, which researchers interpret as possible architectural remains of an ancient city.

    The project involves an international team of scientists and officials from the University of Houston, the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, Colorado State University, and the Honduran government, but all of the planning, logistics support, and information disseminated to media comes from a company called UTL Scientific. 

    UTL Scientific is not a scientific organization, Rus Sheptak, a historical anthropologist who specializes in Honduras, pointed out in a blog post. It is a film company created to produce a documentary about the search for Ciudad Blanca. The film is being co-directed by Steve Elkins and Bill Beneson.

    complex revealed

    Additionally, the international research team working with UTL does not include specialists in Honduran archeology, says Joyce. "You need to have someone who knows the archeology of the country," she said. 

    The search continues

    UTL is careful not to make any claims that they discovered Ciudad Blanca — only that they found some kind of archaeological site — but it's easy to get the facts twisted. 

    Joyce put it well in a post she wrote for the Berkley Blog last June when UTL released the first LiDAR images from Honduras.

    "It is clear that there are archaeological sites in the areas surveyed by the LiDAR team," she wrote. Adding that LiDAR "cannot tell you what time period those sites were built or occupied, what the external relations of those sites were, what activities people carried out there."

    To be fair, anthropologists working closely with the project admit that Ciudad Blanca may forever elude our sensing techniques, because of the dense forest that lies over its remains (why they simply don't go down there on foot is a nagging question). 

    "We may never be able to tell whether any of these are Ciudad Blanca, or whether the legendary city ever existed," Colorado State University professors Christopher Fisher and Stephen Leisz said in a statement. "But we can clearly see in the UTL data evidence that there was a densely settled region with a human-modified environment. These conclusions provide important new insights into the pre-Hispanic settlement of this largely unexplored region."

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    Asphalt Lake

    The Caribbean island of Trinidad is home to the world's largest deposit of natural asphalt, called Pitch Lake.  

    The surface of the lake is a mostly solid carpet of asphalt that can be walked on, attracting some 200,000 tourists each year

    The lake is also mined for asphalt — called "pitch" in its crude, unrefined form — sold around the globe for the use in the paving highways, race tracks, bridge decks, and airport runways. 

    This is Pitch Lake. It may look like a giant parking lot, but make no mistake, it is the only commercial viable source of natural asphalt in the world.

    Source: Trinidad Lake Asphalt



    The lake is located next to the village of La Brea, meaning "tar" in Spanish. It measures 250 feet deep at the center and covers a surface area of around 100 acres, or about 75 football fields.

    Source: Trinidad Lake Asphalt



    The formation of natural asphalt lakes is not fully understood (Los Angeles' La Brea Tar Pits and Venezuela's Lake Guanoco are other examples of natural asphalt-like deposits). Scientists think Pitch Lake was created when the Caribbean continental plate forced its way below the edge of another plate. This pushed up oil deposits from deep within the earth to the surface.

    Source: USA Today



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    On Wednesday night, hail the size of grapefruits rained down on Granbury, Texas, right before as many as three tornadoes rolled through the town, resulting in at least six confirmed deaths, CBS Local reports.

    Here's a picture posted by Twitter user Patrick Vondra:

    And here's video of the hail storm from that evening:

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