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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    With the "polar vortex" bringing frigid temperatures across the country, going outside isn't just uncomfortable — it can be downright dangerous.

    The temperature will drop to -25 F in Fargo, N.D., -31 F in International Falls, Minn., and -15 F in Indianapolis and Chicago, according to the Associated Press.

    Straight temperatures aren't all that matter. Brave adventurers (or those forced to leave their homes) should really consider wind chill — the temperature it "feels like" outside based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin, according to the National Weather Service.

    In colder temperatures, you shiver to produce heat in your muscles. You'll also need to pee more. Exposure to cold reduces blood flow to the skin's surface which also decreased the overall volume that your body can hold. Your body responds by ditching liquid, according to an infographic from the Toronto Sun.

    Fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose are the areas most susceptible to frostbite. Your body works hard to keep internal organs and your head warm, and sometimes extremities get left behind.

    Usually, when parts of your body get too cold, they turn red and hurt. Symptoms of frostbite, however, include a loss of feeling and lack of color. Anyone showing signs of hypothermia or frost bite should seek medical attention immediately.

    The chart below shows how long you can be exposed to certain temperatures before it will result in frost bite.

    For example, a temperature of 0°F and a wind speed of 15 mph creates a wind chill temperature of -19°F. Under these conditions frost bite can occur in just 30 minutes. In some areas of the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, wind chill reached below negative 60 degrees, according to the NWS, when exposed skin can freeze in just freeze in 10 minutes.

    You can, however, survive a winter scenario like this. Check out these tips— like wearing mittens instead of gloves.

    windchill temperature chart

    Extremely cold temperature can also cause hypothermia, when the body's temperature dips below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and obvious exhaustion, according to the NWS.

    Surprisingly, hypothermia can occur at any temperature lower than normal body temperature. Factors like body fat, age, alcohol consumption, and especially wetness can affect how long hypothermia takes to strike.

    If you fall into water, the situation becomes drastically more dangerous.

    For example, in water 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, you might not survive more than 15-to-45 minutes. You'll undergo shock within the first two minutes and some functional disability before 30 minutes, according to the United States Coast Guard.

    Check out this chart from the Personal Floatation Device Manufacturers Association:

    hypothermia temperatures

    SEE ALSO: Here's What The 'Polar Vortex' That's Hitting The US Actually Is

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    You know a serious cold outbreak is on the way when the National Weather Service uses the phrase "eye-popping OMG type cold" to describe the Arctic blast that will sweep over the nation this week. 

    Meteorologist Ryan Maue first picked up on the phrase in a weather update from the agency's Chicago branch.  

    It's not the type of language you would expect to come from this organization, but it's just another sign of how dangerously cold it's going to get. 

    Here's a screenshot from the forecast discussion for the Chicago area (emphasis ours):

    National Weather Service

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    The whirlpool of cold air, known as a "polar vortex," bringing frigid temperatures to half of the United States was captured on Monday, Jan. 6, by one of NOAA's satellites. 

    In the image, the vortex is pushing southward over western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota, according to NASA. The vortex should start moving north, back over Canada, by the end of the week. 


    SEE ALSO: Why Cold Weather Doesn't Mean Global Warming Isn't Real

    SEE ALSO: How To Heat Your Home Using Just Tea Lights And Flower Pots

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    Fracking Hydraulic Fracturing Site Natural Gas Oil Drilling

    A recent report from University of Missouri and U.S. Geological Survey researchers suggested that fracking may be responsible for elevated levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals found in some water. 

    The release of this report was followed by a rash of fear-mongering headlines like "Sex-change chemicals linked to fracking" (The Telegraph) and "Fracking chemicals could cause infertility, cancer and birth defects" (ABC 7 News). 

    But such coverage steamrolls over many of the study's crucial complexities.

    In fact, there's no evidence that exposure to fracking chemicals will change your sex or disrupt your sexual function or cause infertility, cancer, or birth defects.

    The new study these stories were based on was published Dec. 16 in the journal Endocrinology. While it did find higher levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in water collected near the sites of fracking accidents, understanding what that means and whether you should be concerned requires a more nuanced understanding of both EDCs and fracking.

    Endocrine disruptors: the basics

    EDCs are substances that have the potential to affect the behavior of hormones like estrogen and insulin, and research in animals and in the lab suggest they may have a role in infertility, cancers, even obesity and diabetes. Fetuses, babies, and young children may be especially vulnerable. Some scientists also suspect that EDCs may have an effect on sexual development, though evidence of these effects in human populations is scant.

    Researchers run into a big problem though when they try to link the presence of EDCs to illness: Such chemicals are known to be widespread in the environment and come from many different sources. 

    They've been in drinking water for more than a decade and are also in the air, our food, cosmetics, pesticides, and countless man-made materials, most famously in the common chemical BPA, which is found in many plastics, on store receipts, and in the lining of cans of food and soda. Even naturally occurring substances like some found in soy can disrupt the endocrine system

    The term EDC just stands for a general class of chemical: those that have the potential to interfere with our hormone-regulating (endocrine) system. They can mimic, block, or cause over- or under-production of certain hormones. But different chemicals will have different effects, which will vary by species, gender, age, and amount of exposure. 

    Crucially, the presence of an endocrine disruptor does not mean that it is doing damage, and there is little agreement about the levels at which EDCs may be safe in humans. One recent roundup of the research in Endocrine Reviews suggested that traditional methods for assessing chemical safety might not be applicable to EDCs.

    On one hand, the Endocrine Society, an international professional group of hormone researchers and practicing endocrinologists, released a statement on EDCs last year concluding that, especially in fetuses and newborns, "very low-dose EDC exposures [could] have potent and irreversible effects." 

    On the other, in a comprehensive report on endocrine disruptors, the European Food Safety Authority emphasizes that "for most toxic processes, it is generally assumed that there is a threshold of exposure below which no biologically significant effect will be induced." And substances may have physiological effects on the endocrine system, the report notes, without provoking any adverse consequences. 

    In sum, the potential dangers of environmental EDCs are very complex. As the EPA notes in a primer on endocrine disruptors, "the relationship of human diseases of the endocrine system and exposure to environmental contaminants is poorly understood and scientifically controversial."

    The fracking question

    Fracking, Cabot OilWhat does this have to do with natural gas? Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly called "fracking," is a process that shoots a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals deep into the ground to extract natural gas.

    These chemicals are somewhat mysterious, and for years there have been anecdotal reports of miscarriages, headaches, nausea, tumors, and other health problems that sufferers attribute to fracking, but there is precious little data.

    Some conclude most evidence suggests fracking is safe; others argue that we shouldn't be guinea pigs.

    The Endocrinology study researchers wanted to see if they could offer more clues about fracking chemicals by finding out whether there were increased levels of EDCs in areas near fracking sites and spills. 

    The exact mixture injected into wells is kept secret by fracking companies, but an investigation by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce identified 750 of the chemicals used, which ranged from "harmless" (salt, citric acid), to "unexpected" (instant coffee), to "extremely toxic" (benzene, lead). The most widely used chemical was methanol, a toxic air pollutant

    Just because a chemical is used during the fracking process does not mean that it leaches into the water or the air. The potential of such contamination is a reasonable fear, noted in the House report — it's even a documentedproblem— but it's not a certainty. While a preliminary Department of Energy analysis has yet to determine that fracking-related contamination is a problem, much more research is needed.

    One small study of a Colorado town associated fracking with higher levels of toxic chemicals like benzene in the air. Another study in Pennsylvania suggested that homeowners living less than 1 kilometer from fracking sites are likelier to have drinking water that's been contaminated by stray gases. 

    But even if toxic chemicals are detected, they might not reach levels high enough to harm humans. As NPR detailed in its 2012 series on fracking, "the mere presence of a chemical isn't enough to show it caused a symptom." 

    Are fracking chemicals messing with your hormones?

    In short: We really don't know, and anyone who claims to know for sure — either way — may have an agenda.

    Theo Colborn, an anti-fracking activist and zoologist who pioneered research into endocrine disruption, published a recent study for which she sampled the air quality of a fracking-dense Colorado county and detected 30 suspected endocrine disruptors. But the design of that study meant that while it insinuated that fracking was the source of the EDCs, it could not actually prove any relationship between the chemicals and nearby fracking sites.

    The new Endocrinology study also did not prove that fracking causes EDC contamination. But the researchers did find a strong association between fracking-dense areas and water with higher levels of EDCs. 

    To show this, they purchased twelve suspected EDCs that are known to be used in fracking operations and ran a cell culture test to measure whether each chemical would either mimic or block the behavior of certain hormones. They confirmed that — in cells in the lab — all but one had some effect on estrogen or androgens like testosterone, which proved that they were indeed EDCs but not that they were harmful (or safe) to humans. These tests gave the researchers a blueprint of what kind of activity they were looking for in the fracking sites. 

    Then the researchers collected water samples from several sites in Garfield County, Colo., where fracking is widespread and a fracking accident had occurred in the past six years. (These can include things like fracking fluids spilling into a creek or a fracking wastewater tank leaking.) They also collected water samples from the Colorado River, where runoff from the region collects.

    As a control, they collected water from sites in Garfield County where drilling was sparse and in (unfortunately faraway) Boone County, Mo., where drilling was absent.

    Back in the lab, they didn't identify any specific chemicals in the water, but they used the same cell culture test to measure the overall endocrine activity of each of the water samples. Eighty-nine percent of the samples — including the controls — showed at least some effect on hormone production, but the levels of activity varied widely, and endocrine activity was elevated across the board in the water from fracking-dense regions. 

    Anti-androgenic activity, which suppresses the functions of hormones like testosterone and was an observed effect of some of the tested fracking chemicals, was detected in samples from all but one of the fracking sites and none of the control sites. (The researchers suggest that the one fracked site without such activity may have been different because the fracking accident there involved chemicals spilling into a creek, perhaps carrying them away more quickly.)

    Still, the study did not examine the health effects of fracking on humans directly. It did not investigate whether non-spill sites also contain elevated levels of EDCs. And sampling water from regions in two different states, from counties with very different population densities, may have confounded the results somewhat — although since the Missouri control county is more urban, EDCs from wastewater contamination and other sources may have actually been higher there than in a comparable rural region.

    Unquestionably, this is the beginning of research into fracking and EDCs, not an open-and-shut conclusion.

    "It is the first tiny little study in what needs to be a wealth of research attention focused on this issue," study author Susan Nagel, an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri School of Medicine at Columbia, Mo., told Business Insider. 

    Says who?

    So how did this study come to be?

    It was a collaboration between an endocrinologist, a research toxicologist, a biostatistician, and others. The authors, some of whom have a longstanding research interest in EDCs in the environment, suspected that fracking might be yet another a source of these increasingly ubiquitous chemicals. 

    The lead author, Christopher Kassotis, is a graduate student in biology funded in part by a $126,000 EPA grant"to determine the relationship between various hormonal activities in natural sources of water with hydraulic fracturing processes." The results aim to "increase understanding of the potential hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing and provide a basis for regulatory agencies to develop science-based standards of safety and containment of waste from hydraulic fracturing processes."

    Key funding for the study was also provided by the Passport Foundation's Science Innovation Fund, designed to provide support for projects "advancing the environmental health science needed to promulgate effective chemicals regulation [and] public health policies." (Passport Foundation, the now-defunct philanthropy arm of Passport Capital, also made grants to organizations that either oppose fracking or support stricter regulations, including the Environmental Defense Fund, EarthJustice, the Environmental Working Group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.)

    Given this funding mix, it's clear that while the science is solid and the findings are notable, there was probably an endgame in mind: more effective regulation around a potentially harmful but still largely mysterious process.

    Energy in Depth, an oil-and-gas industry group that clearly has a horse in this race, quickly responded to the study, highlighting what they saw as several problems. They pointed out, for example, that the researchers can't know for sure that all the EDCs they detected were from fracking, which is true, but they unfairly took issue with the fact that data was collected from fracking spill sites — such accidents are a pervasive problem, not an anomaly.

    The bottom line

    The upshot is this complicated tale: The Endocrinology study is a cause for concern, not alarm. It suggests scientists should do more research to investigate how fracking might be interfering with our sensitive endocrine system and that fracking accidents in particular may be a source of risk. But the only route to clear proof of harm or safety may be human tests that would be unethical and illegal. 

    In any case, fracking's hormonal effects would likely be subtle, varied, and hard to track. With EDCs all around us, we can't yet know how much fracking contributes to them. 

    So are the chemicals used in fracking really responsible for elevated levels of endocrine disruptors in the water? As Nagel told Business Insider, "it’s a hypothesis that we’re testing, not a proven phenomenon." 

    SEE ALSO: Tour A Hydraulic Fracking Site

    DON'T MISS: Fracking Is Leaving Radioactive Pollution In Pennsylvania Rivers

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    Mick Dodge

    Twenty-five years ago, Mick Dodge left the modern world and ventured into the Hoh rain forest. He's been building his life there ever since, sleeping in tree stumps and living off the land.

    Dodge is also known as the "barefoot sensei" because he doesn't wear shoes. He runs a program called "Earth Gym" in which he teaches people to work out using the terrain around them instead of traditional gym machines.

    The nomad's unusual lifestyle will be the subject of a new television series,"The Legend of Mick Dodge," that airs for the first time on Tuesday night on the National Geographic Channel.

    In advance of the premier Dodge did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit.

    We've compiled some of our favorite answers below, which have been edited for clarity.

    And for more on Dodge's background and adventures, you should check out this well-done profile by Chris Sailor from the Associated Press. 

    How the show's producers found him:

    "Yoish! Jenny and Michele of interchange media found me on Whidbey Island living in a tent sharing the Earth Gym practices, and then two years ago I returned to the Hoh River Valley my teacher and set up a Earth Gym for people to come and train. It was the band of women at the Olympic Mountains Earth Wisdom Circle that set up all the modern support to connect me in."

    How he connects to the Internet:

    "Yoish! I walk my way to my base camp. Turn on the computer and do you what you do. Though we are having a hell of a time trying to figure out how to do this now."

    What "Yoish" means:

    "Yoish! Yoish, is a word that my sensei taught me in Okinawa. It can mean many things. It helps me focus. If I am going to pick up a heavy stone and lift it. I use the word 'yoish' to focus my attention and effort. Then when I am in the game of life and need to get a grip on the moment. I can say 'YOISH' deep inside me and ground with the moment."

    What he eats:

    "Yoish! I eat food, some times insects, sometimes pizza. I run three terrains in the Earth Gym and have explored how to eat in all these terrains."

    The three items he would recommend bringing to survive in the wild:

    "Yoish! Knowledge, skills, and desire. They are the three pillars of training."

    The most meaningful experience in his life:

    "Yoish! I have them every day how to fit my bare soles into the gated wild and how to fit them into the modern world and finding the balance the middle path and have a good time while doing it."

    How long it took him to become accustomed to being barefoot:

    "Yoish! It has taken sixty two years. I am still following them. I just follow them and find my own rhythm, endurance, strength, and balance in landing the earth."

    How he maintains his free-flowing beard:

    "Yoish! Good Hoh Water, living water and not that dead water of the city. The water here is magical, likes to grow things."

    On his encounters with modern living:

    "Yoish! I having been stepping 'in and out' of modern living and the wild for sixty-two years, all of us have. It is a rhythm 'in and out' and 'out and in.' The key word is the word 'and," which tracks and sounds into the word 'land." So I land my soles in the three terrains, the walls of the city, through the open fenced lands up into the gated wild and back again, seeking middle earth."

    On whether he's come close to dying (i.e from weather, hunger, or wild animals):

    "Yoish! One of the things that the earth has taught me about hunger, is to run, go on foot and just keep moving, the hunger pains take a back seat. It was amazing how long that I could go on foot and not eat the way that I had learned in domestication."

    How he uses fire to heal himself when he gets sick:

    "Yoish! One of the ways I use fire is sweats. Another way is to dance with the fire. I often find that when I get a bit weak, run down. That a good dance with the spirit of fire, pulls me back into the "rapture.'"

    And which he clarifies the description for one of the episodes that says he became so desperate for a decent meal that he looked through elk feces hoping to find larvae eggs:

    "Yoish! No I was not going to eat elk sh*t. I was trying to get the camera crew to eat it."

    You can learn more about Dodge in this short clip below, courtesy of National Geographic:

    SEE ALSO: Now hike the 2,000-mile trail that most people never finish

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    Here's another view of the frigid polar vortex, this time from NOAA.

    That mass of blue represents the frigid temperatures that descended on Canada and parts of the United State due to a polar vortex sweeping down from the North Pole.

    As we've explained before, polar vortexes are nothing new. They become stronger during the winter and are typically kept in place over the Arctic by a moving air current known as the polar night jet.

    In this case, the polar vortex weakened and some parts of cold air flung south into our neck of the woods. The cold outbreak is in no way evidence against global warming, actually, it is potentially the result of melting ice in the Arctic.

    Polar Vortex

    SEE ALSO: Why Cold Weather Doesn't Mean Global Warming Isn't Real

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    This satellite image of Mount Vesuvius in Italy won DigitalGlobe's Top Image of Year contest for 2013, receiving the most votes on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and Twitter.

    The voting began in early December with a collection of 20 satellite images, including aerial views of a medieval fortified palace in Syria and a heart-shaped island in Croatia.

    You can see the original 20 here.

    Mount Vesuvius is best known for the eruption that buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. It last erupted in 1944.

    mount vesuvius in naples italy

    SEE ALSO: See other breathtaking satellite images of Earth from 2013

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    Elio Motors We've seen quite a few flashy, teched-up cars at the Las Vegas CES showcase, but this teeny-tiny three-wheeler was one of the most interesting. 

    The car, made by American auto-startup Elio Motors, gets 84 miles per gallon and costs only $6,800. It had surprisingly comfortable seating for two people and Elio considers it one of the greenest, gas-powered cars out there. 

    Elio Motors recently raised more than $7 million and locked-down space in a GM Manufacturing plant in Louisiana, but you won't be able to buy the car until early 2015. 

    Check out some more photos of the car:

    Elio Motors

    The car has passed all necessary safety ratings to hit the road:

    Elio Motors

    It would definitely be a cozy way to travel.

    Elio Motors

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    Giant ice balls can be seen lining the shores of Lake Michigan following this week's deep freeze. The incredible sight was captured by many YouTube videos.

    The winter phenomenon, though very cool, is not new. The ice balls, or boulders, form just as the lake begins to freeze, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Jim Andrews, and the motion of the waves molds the ice into spheres.

    "Small fragments of floating ice act like seeds,"explains LiveScience, "with layers upon layers of supercooled lake water freezing around them as the balls churn in the waves."

    The boulders, which are probably the size of basketballs, could weigh up to 75 pounds.

    The wind pushes the spheres to the shore and they don't sink because solid ice is less dense than liquid water. Looks kinda like a giant bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

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    amazon web tower

    Scientists have finally found the culprit behind the strange web towers in the image to the right, first discovered last year in the Amazon.

    Images of these towers went viral back in August of 2013, and many suspected it was made by a spider — since it was spun out of silk — but no one knew which spider, or what the weird webs were for.

    Phil Torres from the Tambopata Research Center, Lary Reeves and Geena Hill from the University of Florida, and wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer from trekked deep into the Peruvian Amazon to study the structures and attempt to identify what was creating them.

    They were accompanied by science journalist Nadia Drake, who documented their trek on the Wired Science blog.

    The team located about 45 of the web towers and observed and dissected some of them, but their results were inconclusive. The scientists began to think the structures might be just a tower of sperm designed to entice and fertilize female spiders.

    On the last day of the trip, though, one of the strange structures hatched, and a baby spider emerged. You can see what the teeny tiny baby mystery spider below:

    new amazon spiderThe scientists saw several adult spiders around, but never witnessed them constructing the towers, so they still don't know how the structures are made. They did observe lots of mites around the sticky web fences and towers like the one below.

    Mite near web structureAt first the scientists had entertained the idea that the silk-producing mites might be responsible for the structures, but once the baby spiders hatched the scientists knew that couldn't be right.

    Instead, the scientists believe that the sticky fence surrounding the web towers might be a way to ensnare mites as food for the newly hatched spiders or a defense mechanism to protect the spider egg from ants or other tiny predators.

    You can see how the thin strands of web create a perimeter around the center tower containing the egg in the image below.

    amazon web towerThis is potentially the first documented case of a structure that hatches a single spider egg: usually spiders lay multiple eggs that hatch in groups. The team of scientists are still trying to identify the spider.

    See more from Drake about solving the mystery web-tower riddle >

    SEE ALSO: Researchers In The Rainforest Took This Fantastic Image Of A Spider Eating A Frog

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    Water Flea

    Scientists successfully hatched tiny aquatic animals from dormant eggs that had been lying on the bottom of a lake for around 700 years. 

    The resurrected water fleas, known scientifically as Daphnia pulicaria, could be the oldest animal eggs to ever to be brought to life, researchers report in a study published Thursday in Ecology Letters.

    The animals, which scientists also extracted DNA from, serve as a living time capsule. They can be used to study how these species have adapted to their changing environments over time, particularly as a result of human disturbances.

    "The chemistry of those lakes has been carefully documented for decades,"Carl Zimmer of the New York Times explains, "making it possible to see how changes in pollution levels affected the water fleas."

    Specifically, researchers looked at the amount of phosphorus in South Center Lake in Minnesota over the last 1,600 years, the age represented by the sediment core that scientists, led by Lawrence Weider from the University of Oklahoma, extracted from the lake in 2009 (the oldest hatched eggs from this core that they were able to revive seem to be around 700 years old).

    The concentration of phosphorous remained steady, at low levels, for the first 1,500 years, but began to increase in the mid-1800s as a result of "intensifying agricultural activities," the study found.

    "That environmental shift coincided with a drastic change in the genes of the water fleas,"Zimmer writes. "As phosphorus flooded the lake, a previously rare strain emerged and took over."

    The researchers found that older Daphina — those that existed before European settlement — were not able to regulate their phosphorous intake the same way as Daphina that were just decades-old. This tells us that Daphina changed how they used phosphorous in response to more of it becoming available — evolution in action.

    "The new research adds to a growing number of studies indicating that humans are influencing the evolution of wild species," Zimmer writes.

    Read Zimmer's full-article here »

    SEE ALSO: Scientists Want To Bring 24 Animals Back From Extinction

    SEE ALSO: Shocking Before And After Pictures Of How Climate Change Is Destroying The Earth

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    bird fishResearchers in South Africa captured the first video footage of a freshwater fish lunging out of the water and snatching a bird in flight.

    The behavior was discovered during a 15-day study on Schroda Dam, which created a man-made lake in the Mapungubwe National Park.

    Freshwater fish, including some bass species, eels, and piranhas, have been shown to occasionally prey on birds that are swimming in water, or sitting on land close to the edge of the water, according to report published in the Journal of Fish Biology

    For example, the European catfish has learned how to leap onto gravely shores to catch pigeons.

    But there are even fewer accounts of fish actually leaping out of the water to catch small birds.

    Until now, there was only anecdotal evidence that the African tigerfish, a freshwater fish known scientifically as Hydrocynus vittatus, had the ability to propel itself out of the water and capture flying birds.

    During the two-week survey, scientists observed as many as 20 successful attacks on low-flying barn swallows by African tigerfish each day.

    The fish either attacked the birds as they were swimming near the surface of the water, or initiated a direct aerial strike from deeper water, according to the study. The second strategy appeared to be more successful.

    A diagram of attack strategies is shown below:

    bird attack

    The predation behavior "may have been adopted out of necessity due to food limitation," the researchers write.

    The act is risky — by preying on barn swallows in the air, the African tigerfish leaves itself open to being preyed on by other birds, including the African fish eagle.

    Check out a successful aerial strike by a African tigerfish on a barn swallow in the video below, courtesy of Nature Newsteam.

    By the way, here's what the African tigerfish looks like:

    African tigerfish

    SEE ALSO: Rare Photos Capture A Golden Eagle Attacking A Deer

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    lion hug

    Kevin Richardson is an animal behaviorist who has become famous for getting up-close to wild animals, including lions and hyenas.

    In a viral video, taken by a GoPro camera, the so-called "lion whisperer" can be seen hugging and cuddling two lions that he rescued as cubs when their mother abandoned them.

    The lions are now 10 years old.

    Despite all of this time living in the wild in South Africa, the lions still respond to Richardson's voice. He calls the animals' names and they come running to greet him.

    Richardson's methods are controversial since interacting with wild animals is obviously dangerous.

    But on his website, Richardson argues that developing personal relationships with lions brings attention to their plight in captivity and the wild.

    A large study published in the journal Science this week found that three-quarters of the world's top predators, including lions, are going extinct. This is largely due to habitat loss. 

    You can watch Richardson stroking and kissing his lion friends like house cats in the video below:

    SEE ALSO: How Cats See The World Compared To Humans [PICTURES]

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    Cats get a bad rap. 

    They pretty much do what they want and are generally thought of as less friendly than dogs. 

    But a new book,"Cat Sense," provides fresh insight into the relationship between cats and humans, and gets to the heart of why cats have earned their reputation as being furry little jerks.

    The book is based on 30 years of research by John Bradshaw, a biologist and director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol. 

    Here are some of the most interesting findings we've seen in interviews and reviews of Bradshaw's book:

    • The cat's purr isn't just a sign of being content. Kittens purr to get their "mother to lie still while they're suckling," Bradshaw told NPR in an interview. The purr is carried into adulthood, where it's used as "a signal to the animals, [and] the people around them to pay attention and try to help them."
    • Cats are different than dogs because they weren't purposely bred to be our companions, Nicholas Wade explains in a review for the New York Times. They are still mostly wild animals that "rely almost entirely on their natural social behaviors," writes Wade.  
    • This is also why cats have earned a reputation for being unfriendly. The domestic cat population is largely controlled through spaying and neutering, leaving mostly wild or feral cats (known for their nasty behavior) for domestic cats to breed with. As a result, we are unintentionally "causing cats to evolve into animals society won't like as much," according to a review by Steven Poole in The Guardian
    • Cats view their owners as bigger, nonhostile cats — not kittens whom they want to feed by dropping rodents at the doorstep.
    • This act isn't the cat searching for a prize to bring back to the house. Bradshaw says that cats actually prefer canned cat food, so they ditch the prey by the door when they get home and remember this. 
    • Cats greet humans the same way they would greet fellow, friendly cats — with an upright tail that demonstrates affection for their owners, says The Independent's Heather Saul.
    • Cats are good at climbing up trees because they have claws that face forwards, writes Poole. This design is not good for helping them get down, which is why cats often get stuck in trees. 

    SEE ALSO: How Cats See The World Compared To Humans [PICTURES]

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    Mount Sinabung, a large volcano on Sumatra Island in Indonesia, has been erupting on and off since September, covering the area with ash and forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

    On Sunday, more than 25,000 villagers had to be evacuated following a series of eruptions and lava flows, the AFP reported.

    Here's are some recent photos of Indonesian villages affected by the eruptions.

    A man looks at Mount Sinabung spewing ash from Jraya village on Jan. 13, 2014.

    Mount Sinabung

    A mother holds her son as they watch the eruption of Mount Sinabung at Berastepu village on Jan. 10.

    Mount SinabungA dog is seen at a chili plantation covered by ash from Mount Sinabung at Kebayakan village.

    Mount Sinabung

    A dead bird lies on the ash-covered ground.

    Mount Sinabung

    The window of a house is partially covered in ash after the volcano erupted at Bekerah village.

    Mount Sinabung

    Mount Sinabung volcano spews ash during an eruption on Jan. 10, as seen from Berastepu village.

    Mount Sinabung

    A dead dog lies on a street covered in ash at Tiga Pancur village.

    Mount Sinabung

    SEE ALSO: Now see the most beautiful places in the world

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    Squid And Owlfish

    A deep-sea squid fights to eat an owlfish double its size in this video taken in Monterey Bay along the central coast of California.

    The battle was recorded last November by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) using a remotely operated vehicle.

    Researchers followed the squid and owlfish for about an hour, during which the two foes dropped about 500 feet from where they were first discovered at a depth of 1,475 feet, according to Becky Oskin at LiveScience.

    "We see a lot of feeding events and often times the squid gets startled and lets go," MBARI senior research technician Susan von Thun told Oskin, "but this guy held on for the whole time that we watched it."

    Although the owlfish has its own defense mechanisms — it can shed its scales or flick its tail to break free from the squid's grip — the squid uses its sharp beak inside its mouth to sever the fish's spinal cord, according to the video.

    Von Thun thinks the rapid sinking may also be part of the squid's feeding strategy. 

    "It is likely that [the squid] would eat the entire fish, but may take hours or even days to do so," according to MBARI.

    Watch the epic struggle below, followed by more creepy videos from MBARI:

    SEE ALSO: CAUGHT ON VIDEO: Terrifying Tigerfish Lunges Out Of The Water To Eat A Bird Mid-Flight

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    bird formation

    Migratory birds flying in a "V" shape flap their wings at precise times to take advantage of the lifting power generated by the bird in front, scientists report in a study published Jan. 15 in the journal Nature.

    The theory that birds fly in a V-formation to save energy is not new. But this is the first time scientists have recorded data from birds flying in the wild, thanks in part to new technology.

    British scientists attached sensors to 14 northern bald ibises to track their movements during a 43-minute period of a migratory flight from Austria to Italy. 

    When a bird flaps its wings, it creates lift by generating a looping motion of air around the wing.

    The airflow blowing over the top of the wing is thrown downward, known as downwash (shown in red in the graphic below), while the air at the wing's tips is accelerated upwards, known as upwash (shown in blue).

    Bird FlyingThe birds want to be in the region of upward-moving air to reduce the effort needed to fly.

    Birds not only position themselves in the best possible spots to take advantage of the upward flow of air, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College in London found, they are also paying attention to the timing of the flap movements of the bird ahead, "which create tip vortices that undulate up and down," Florian Muijres and Michael Dickinson wrote in a News & Views commentary on the study, also published in Nature.

    A bird will alter the timing of its wing beat to stay in the upwash created by the moving wingtips of the bird ahead of it.

    "A bird that is following another bird must carefully adjust its own flapping motion, not in perfect temporal synchrony with the leader, but rather at a precise phase lag that tracks the tip as it oscillates," Muijres and Dickinson write.

    To do all those things, the best way for the birds to fly is in a V- shape.

    Check out the video below for more on why birds fly in a V-formation.

    SEE ALSO: You'd Be Surprised To Know What Your Cat Thinks About You

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    Dolphins are recognized for their natural ability to use sound, or echolocation, to detect the shape, size, and speed of objects under water. But the marine mammal's visual perception of the world is less well-understood.

    In a new study, led by Masaki Tomonaga from Kyoto University in Japan, researchers looked at how bottlenose dolphins perceive a range of simple, two-dimensional objects compared with chimpanzees and humans.

    Previous studies of dolphin vision have used complicated, three-dimensional shapes, making it hard for researchers to identify the types of visual "cues"— like curves or diagonal lines — that dolphins use to suss out differences or similarities among objects.

    Dolphins have limited color vision and poorer visual acuity, or clearness of vision from a specific distance, both in air and under water than primates. Despite these differences, bottlenose dolphins "perceive the world in fundamentally similar ways" to other primates, the study authors wrote in the journal Scientific Reports.

    The researchers tested the visual perception of three wild-born bottlenose dolphins — Peace, Tino, and Eagle — currently living in the Port of Nahoya Public Aquarium in Japan.

    Dolphin study

    Nine simple geometric shapes with distinguishing features, such open-endedness or right angles, were used in a matching task. The shapes and their various features are shown in the diagram to the right.

    In a technique known as "delayed-matching," a dolphin was trained to touch its nose to a sample shape (a double-concave, for instance) that was shown above the water by a person. The sample shape was then removed and the dolphin was presented with a pair of shapes, one in each each hand (a double-concave and a D-shape). The dolphin was required to choose the shape that was identical to the sample shape.

    By combining nine shapes into pairs, 36 pairings were included in the study.Dolphin Study

    Comparable matching tests, using pictures of the 36 pairs, were done with chimpanzees and humans. Seven chimpanzees were presented on a computer screen with color photographs of the same shapes shown to the dolphins. When given two choices, the chimpanzees had to touch the shape that was identical to the sample. In the human experiment, 20 volunteers used a rating scale to judge the similarity of each pair, which were printed on a single sheet of paper.

    The results of the tests for each species is below. All three dolphins and the chimpanzees displayed similar patterns of confusion — they had a tougher time discriminating between shapes with the same features (such as a circle and D-shape or a U-shape and H-shape), meaning they view these shapes as "similar."

    Considering dolphins and primates live in very different environments, their visual abilities were surprisingly similar, the researchers write.


    But there was one distinction — all three species relied on different details to determine "similarity."

    "The weight given to each feature in determining perceptual similarity differed slightly among species," the researchers wrote.

    For instance, humans perceived curved-shapes as more similar than dolphins did, but perceived shapes featuring acute angles as less similar than both dolphins and chimpanzees. Chimpanzees, on the hand, perceived open-ended shapes as more similar than the other two species did.

    It's still not clear why these differences emerged, the researchers said in the study, but point to some procedural inconsistencies. Humans, for example, were shown shapes that were much smaller than the shapes presented to the dolphins and chimpanzees. It's possible that the reduced size caused the human group to pay more attention to features like closure, the authors said.

    It's also known that humans first notice the whole shape, whereas other animals pay more attention to finer details, Tomonaga told Business Insider over email.

    Dolphin study

    SEE ALSO: How Cats See The World Compared To Humans [PICTURES]

    SEE ALSO: Do Dolphins Really Get 'High' On Pufferfish?

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    sochi russiaSOCHIRussia (Reuters) - The first warning of the problems that eventually swept away Irina Vorochkova's house near Russia's Olympic city of Sochi came when the garden began shifting, then the ground slid away downhill towards a river.

    As builders worked feverishly to get the Black Sea resort ready for winter games so closely tied to PresidentVladimir Putin's legacy, they failed to notice the effects their work was having on the village below.

    Until the walls of Vorochkova's two-storey home fell. Tell-tale cracks snaked through neighboring houses.

    The 58-year-old housewife now lives in an aluminum shack and is fighting a legal battle for compensation overdamage she blames on Olympic subcontractors. Other villages near Sochi offer similar complaints of ruined homes, illegal landfills and broken promises that their lives would not be poisoned by construction.

    "It started slowly with little things, like the poles for the clothesline were not quite in the same place, the borders of the garden had moved. Then the front of my house fell off," she said.

    Putin is expected to spend more than $50 billion to show off Russia's modern face at the Games in Sochi, aBlack Sea resort on the edge of the Caucasus Mountains. Moscow promised to set "new environmental standards" in Olympic construction.

    Complaints about construction, along with international concerns about gay rights and security, threaten Putin's efforts to improve Russia's image through the games.

    The Sochi 2014 organizing committee says construction has minimized harmful carbon emissions, and companies carrying out construction say they are sticking to their promises to meet international standards in protecting the environment.

    "The air and water in Sochi have become cleaner than in December 2007," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozaksaid this month, praising the modernization of local transport and environmental protection work.

    But some ecologists say the damage is only the beginning and that construction may have put the region in the path of potential ecological disasters, including poisoned drinking water and flooding.

    Dust Cloud

    In the village of Akhshtyr, a few kilometers up the road from Chereshnya, the wells used by villagers for centuries have dried up since Russian Railways started digging a quarry in the adjacent foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.

    The quarries mined by Russian Railways, a huge state company run by Putin's long-time ally and friend Vladimir Yakunin, have provided rock used in the construction of Olympic venues.

    Trucks rumble past every few minutes, carrying stones to the construction sites below.

    One villager, Alexander Koropov, said that when construction started, local authorities gathered villagers to explain that they would soon be linked into a natural gas grid and a regional water system, delivering modern utilities.

    "We thought they would bring us civilization, development, but instead we are now living worse than the Indians did on American reservations 200 years ago," said Koropov, standing in the orchard where he used to grow persimmons to sell.

    The trucks constantly haul off the rock. Villagers say the trucks bring in trash from other construction sites, dumping it in the gorge within walking distance.

    A dust cloud covers the village.

    Russian Railways says it paid a fine for the illegal dumping and has since stopped the practice, though residents say trucks continue to haul trash into the landfill.

    Since the wells dried up, the company has delivered almost daily barrels of water to Akhshtyr residents.

    "I don't even care that they didn't keep their promises. It's the fact that they've made this place unlivable now," said Koropov.

    Olympic Waste

    While the trash itself poses no direct danger, rainwater flowing into the ground and into the nearby Mzymta River, which is used by Sochi residents for drinking water, is at risk of being contaminated by the waste, say local environmentalists.

    "When the substances accumulate (in the water supply), it can have a toxic effect, because no one knows exactly what those materials in the landfill are comprised of, where they have come from," said Yulia Naberezhnaya, spokeswoman for the Russian Geographical Society in Sochi.

    Naberezhnaya is one of many Sochi environmental activists who New York-based Human Rights Watch says have been harassed over her work.

    Other environmental activists have had criminal cases opened against them, including Suren Gazaryan, who received asylum in Estonia after facing criminal accusations which he called politically motivated.

    In 2008, months after Putin won the right to hold the Games in Sochi, a U.N. environmental group paid a visit to the area.

    After meeting government ministers, Olympic contractor Olympstroy and local non-governmental groups, the delegation concluded the Olympic project was aimed at economic development "in which environmental aspects play only a minor role".

    "Any sustained efforts to improve the environmental performance will probably have only a minor effect compared to the environmental damage that will be inflicted due to the overall development related to the Games," said the United Nations Environmental Programme in a mission report.

    In the village of Kudepsta, the territory of a former Soviet collective farm have been turned into the factory grounds for several cement producers for Olympic construction. Landfills for construction waste also dot the grounds.

    Rubber boots and orange construction helmets lie half-buried in the ground.

    "Of all the people who work and have businesses on this land, no one has documents allowing them to work here. Neither the drivers who deliver the cement out nor the ones who bring the trash in," said Natalya Vorobyova, who has led several pickets outside the grounds of the old collective farm.

    "Emergency Situation"

    Kudepsta, like many other down-river villages, lies around the Imeretinsky lowlands where rain and melted snow drain into the Black Sea through a series of rivers and swamplands.

    According to Russian data, Sochi receives 1.7 meters of rainfall every year, more than anywhere else in the country apart from a chain of islands near Japan.

    Once a stopping place for migrating birds, much of that area has been turned into Olympic venues, including the Fisht Stadium, where the Games' opening and closing ceremonies will be held.

    Environmental experts say that Olympic construction which has consisted of pouring soil into lowland swamps helped cause the flooding that created a state of emergency in the area in September and could increase the risk for more flooding.

    "Those rains were a test to see how prepared we were for a relatively normal occurrence. And it showed the extent to which our Olympic construction failed after getting rid of old drainage systems and installing new ones that don't work," said Valery Suchkov, a lawyer specializing in environmental law.

    Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska's company Transstroy was responsible for much of the work to create a foundation for the Olympic venues.

    A spokeswoman for the company, Yelena Stakhiyeva, said Transstroy had fulfilled its obligations but that another company had been subcontracted to build the drainage system.

    Months after the flooding, residents complain that the ground even on a sunny day is still damp.

    "The ground never really dries, it's been wet for months," said Kudepsta resident Alexander Tarasovich, poking his boot in to the soft, black dirt.

    For most residents, they see the attention that the Olympics will bring as a final chance to be heard, but some barely have the strength left to fight.

    "I'm just tired, it's too much," says Vorochkova, with tears in her eyes, closing the door to her aluminum shack that sits across from the ruin of her old house.

    "All I want to do is sleep," she said.

    (Editing by Timothy Heritage and Ralph Boulton)

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    Coal Plant

    A U.N. draft report, leaked to several news agencies on Thursday, says that countries need to slash greenhouse gas emissions and start investing in clean energies now if we want Earth to be liveable for future generations.

    The atmosphere-cleaning technologies we have now will not be able to combat the greenhouse gas emissions that will accumulate during the next two decades, according to The New York Times.

    In that devastating future, our only option will be to develop new ways to remove emissions from the atmosphere. These would be prohibitively expensive.

    Here's more from the Times:

    Another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, experts found.

    Delay would probably force future generations to develop the capability to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store them underground to preserve the livability of the planet, the report found. But it is not clear whether such technologies will ever exist at the necessary scale, and even if they do, the approach would probably be wildly expensive compared with taking steps now to slow emissions.

    So far, any clean-energy gains made by investing in solar or wind power have been eclipsed by the increased burning of fossil fuels — mostly oil and coal — especially in counties like China, the world's biggest contributor to climate change.

    According to the Associated Press, the report said that greenhouse gas emissions grew by 2.2%, on average, between 2000 and 2010, compared to 1.3% each year between 1970 and 2000.

    International leaders pledged at the 2009 Copenhagen conference to limit global temperature increases to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels, a target that would require carbon dioxide levels (the main greenhouse gas) to stay below 500 parts per million, according to the Times.

    co2_data_mloThe atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is currently just under 400 parts per million, but has been climbing rapidly since records began at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii (see chart). Carbon dioxide concentration was at 316 parts per million at the initial recording in 1958.

    In order to keep concentration of carbon dioxide below 500 parts per million in this century, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 40% to 70%, based on what they were in 2010, would be required by 2050, the AP reported. 

    The draft is the last of a three-part summary on climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change. It's their biggest report since 2007. The first part was released in September. The third segment should be published in April.

    SEE ALSO: Shocking Before And After Pictures Of How Climate Change Is Destroying The Earth

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