Articles on this Page
- 03/02/15--15:47: _A lot of used motor...
- 03/03/15--17:23: _California oil dril...
- 03/03/15--17:39: _Coyotes in suburban...
- 03/03/15--21:09: _Mount Everest is be...
- 03/04/15--14:29: _Australian authorit...
- 03/04/15--17:14: _Etsy has communal m...
- 03/05/15--18:30: _Idaho: The US wants...
- 03/06/15--13:41: _7 animals humans ar...
- 03/09/15--07:06: _8 ways you are kill...
- 03/12/15--06:39: _Where on Earth you ...
- 03/12/15--07:43: _Scientists are fina...
- 03/12/15--16:00: _Leonardo DiCaprio a...
- 03/13/15--07:22: _If apes go extinct,...
- 03/13/15--10:20: _Melting sea ice wil...
- 03/17/15--16:03: _Google X is putting...
- 03/18/15--13:25: _Volcanic lightning ...
- 03/19/15--14:00: _Australia’s Great B...
- 03/19/15--14:26: _NOAA: Here's what S...
- 03/20/15--11:59: _The new Republican ...
- 03/20/15--15:08: _Researchers just re...
- 03/03/15--17:39: Coyotes in suburban New York 'aren't afraid of people anymore'
- 03/03/15--21:09: Mount Everest is becoming the world's highest garbage dump
- 03/05/15--18:30: Idaho: The US wants us to be 'a nuclear waste dump'
- 03/06/15--13:41: 7 animals humans are trying to kill off
- 03/12/15--06:39: Where on Earth you can't buy a normal light bulb
- 03/13/15--07:22: If apes go extinct, entire forests may follow
- 03/13/15--10:20: Melting sea ice will probably hit the US harder than anywhere else
- 03/17/15--16:03: Google X is putting giant wind turbines in the sky next month
- Amazing Images: Volcanoes from Space
- Eyjafjallajokull Volcano's Ash Cloud Explained (Infographic)
- Images: Grimsvotn Volcano Puts on Lightning Show
- 03/19/15--14:00: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is about to get pummeled by a cyclone
- 03/19/15--14:26: NOAA: Here's what Spring has in store for the US
SEATTLE (Reuters) - As much as 1,500 gallons of used motor oil leaked from an above-ground storage tank in Washington state into a creek that flows into the Yakima River, vital to the apple-growing state's agricultural hub, officials said on Monday.
The cause of the spill on Sunday from the tank at a former feed lot near Sunnyside, about 170 miles southeast of Seattle, was under investigation.
Department of Ecology spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder said the oil posed a threat to otters, waterfowl and fish as well as orchards and other crops in the area.
"In a couple of weeks, the canals will all be full and (farmers) will be watering their crops and their orchards, so we want to get this cleaned up," Redfield-Wilder said.
The Washington state Department of Ecology said its workers installed absorbent pads and protective booms at several sites, including about 900 feet upstream of the mouth of Sulphur Creek and at a fish hatchery on the Yakima River after Sunday's spill.
The slick could be seen in the water as far as 15 miles southeast of Sunnyside, the state said on Monday.
NRC Environmental Services, which the state hired to handle the cleanup, was using vacuum trucks to remove oil.
The Yakima River is an important water source for farm irrigation in south central Washington state. It is also a renowned trout fishing river.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California oil drilling regulators on Tuesday ordered operators of 12 underground injection wells in Kern County to halt injections out of fear that they could contaminate drinking water supplies.
The action is part of a statewide review of California's 50,000 underground injection wells, which oil companies use to dispose of billions of barrels of undrinkable water produced every year during oil production.
The review began last summer after it was discovered that some injection was taking place into zones not approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the terms of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“As we’ve said before, the protection of California’s groundwater resources – as well as public health - is paramount, particularly in this time of extreme drought,” said Steven Bohlen, state oil and gas supervisor.
He said that limited testing of water supply wells by the Water Board has so far revealed no contamination of water used for drinking or agriculture.
The 12 wells ordered to halt injections include three operated by Linn Operating, Inc three operated by California Resources Corp (formerly Vintage), two each operated by E&B Natural Resources Management and Chevron U.S.A., and one each operated by Modus Inc and Western States International Inc.
Last summer, 11 Kern County wells were ordered to stop injections for fear of water contamination.
The oil operators of the 12 wells will be required to sample the groundwater at the point of injection for testing, regulators said.
Environmentalists said Tuesday's order did not go far enough, noting that a report by the California EPA said the state Water Board has identified more than 200 injection wells of highest concern for potential risk to water supplies.
"Shutting down 12 illegal injection wells barely scrapes the surface of this threat to our drinking water," said Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Before this gets any worse, we need Governor Jerry Brown to order an immediate halt to all illegal oil wells in protected aquifers,"
Because of the nature of California’s geology, drilling for oil and gas yields far more water than oil. In 2014, California produced 205.3 million barrels of oil, but more than 3.3 billion barrels of water, which is usually brackish and unsuitable for human use. That water is typically disposed of by being injected back into the reservoir from which it was produced.
CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. (AP) — This well-heeled hamlet north of New York City is embroiled in an increasingly nasty debate that seems oddly out of place amid the stately homes and tony boutiques: What should be done about coyotes?
Self-styled coyote spotters in and around Chappaqua have counted 160 incursions into backyards and streets over the last two years and at least 10 recent attacks on pets.
That's been enough to stir animal passions among residents over the question of when and if a coyote deserves to be killed.
Email and social media have swirled with such teeth-baring terms as "coyote jihad" and "death map." And members of a local task force that advocates trapping and killing some of the animals announced they were staying away from a recent public hearing on the issue "in the interest of our personal safety."
"I envisioned going down there and having blood thrown on me," said task force member Joyce Stansell-Wong, who has since resigned.
Chappaqua, about 35 miles north of the city, is better known as the home of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton than as a playground for coyotes. But wildlife officials say the demise of such predators as wolves and cougars over the last few decades has led to a spread of coyotes into more populated areas across the East Coast, including suburbs.
Instagram and Facebook are replete with pictures of the canines scampering across sidewalks and among backyard playsets. Coyotes have even been spotted in New York City's Central Park and the Bronx.
Robert Greenstein, supervisor of the Town of New Castle, which has about 18,000 residents in Chappaqua, Millwood and unincorporated areas, said that in general, the debate is between two camps: "One group is concerned with protecting the coyotes and the other group is more concerned with protecting our pets."
The pet-protection camp, represented by the New Castle Coyote Management Task Force, argues for quicker use of "lethal solutions." Even though there have been no attacks on humans, they fear the skulking canines may start to attack small children.
"A menacing coyote, circling the playground, stalking children, that coyote has to go," said task force member Ann Styles Brochstein, whose Havanese dog Samson was attacked by a coyote in their yard.
"Residents have had to alter their lifestyle significantly, she said. "Taking out the garbage, grilling in backyards, walking children home from bus stops and the simple act of walking dogs have all attracted coyotes. They appear on porches and decks, looking through doors at children and pets."
A separate group, represented by the New Castle Coyote Awareness and Safety Advisory Committee, is advocating more tolerance, noting that coyote attacks on humans are very unusual and that a little education — and keeping pets on leashes — can help limit close encounters. In general, they would limit killings to coyotes that attack humans or leashed pets.
"We must encourage responsible pet ownership and not penalize a coyote for taking a small dog when such an act is only doing what comes naturally," said Victoria Alzapiedi, chairwoman of the advisory committee.
In the public meeting on the issue Feb. 10, the advisory committee gave its presentation. The absent task force submitted its presentation online. Both groups did extensive research, spoke with experts and appear to agree that coexistence is inevitable.
They differ, however, on the current effectiveness of "hazing" coyotes, or trying to instill a fear of humans by making a noisy commotion when a coyote is spotted. The task force says some coyotes have gotten used to such displays and pay scant attention.
New York's Department of Environmental Conservation would have to approve any shooting or trapping. Coyotes that are trapped are then euthanized rather than taken to another area.
The department's guidelines offer some perspective, noting that 650 New Yorkers are hospitalized every year for dog bites and that while coyotes kill cats, "so do foxes, dogs, bobcats, vehicles and even great horned owls."
Dan Bogan, a coyote expert who consults for the DEC, said, "We're never going to get rid of coyotes. They're not going anywhere. People aren't going anywhere either. Coexistence is the solution."
Greenstein said town board members are studying the proposals and will hold a public work session in the next month or two to discuss them.
His prediction: "That'll be Round 2 of the fireworks."
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Six decades after the first conquest of the world's highest peak, tons of rubbish and human waste abandoned by hundreds of Mount Everest climbers is starting to raise a stink.
Nepal is cracking down on the mountaineers who seek to emulate the 1953 feat of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, in the process giving the 8,850-metre (29,035-foot) peak the dubious honor of being the world's highest garbage dump.
About 300 mountaineers and as many Sherpa guides battle the elements on Everest's icy slopes during the annual climbing season, which begins in March and runs until May.
But in the absence of toilets climbers must squat in the open or hunker down behind rocks to do their business.
Now Nepal has threatened stricter enforcement of penalties to persuade climbers to clean up after themselves and carry litter back to base camp.
A 2014 rule for a garbage deposit of $4,000 to be forfeited by any expedition from which a climber fails to bring back 8 kg (17.6 lbs) of trash and human waste, will be strictly enforced this year, a tourism official said.
Human excrement is a bigger problem than the oxygen bottles, torn tents, broken ladders, and cans or wrappers teams left behind, said Ang Tshering Sherpa, chief of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
"Discarded in ice pits, the human waste remains under the snow," Sherpa told reporters on Tuesday. "When washed down by glaciers (when the snow melts), it comes out in the open."
Human waste piling up over decades gave off an "unpleasant odor" and posed a health hazard to people dependent on water from rivers fed by the region's melting glaciers, Sherpa said.
Climbers said it was hard to estimate how much human waste remained frozen under the snow, but they agreed the mountain's surface was much cleaner after the NMA's monitoring efforts.
Eco-Everest clean-up expeditions led by Dawa Steven Sherpa each year since 2008 have retrieved 15,000 kg (33,070 lbs) of trash, but there are no estimates of garbage left behind.
Some 4,000 climbers have scaled Mount Everest so far. Snow shrouds the bodies of at least 260 who died trying.
In 2012, Nepali artists sculpted into works of art 1.5 metric tons (1.7 tons) of trash taken from Mount Everest, as part of an awareness campaign to keep the summit pristine.
(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Clarence Fernandez)
Australian authorities have killed almost 700 koalas in secret culls to prevent overpopulation in a coastal bushland region after members of a starving colony were seen “falling out of trees”.
The euthanasia operations were conducted between September 2013 and March 2014 in a colony of koalas in gum woodlands at Cape Otway, about 140 miles south-west of Melbourne.
The koalas were taken from trees, sedated and assessed by veterinarians before being killed by lethal injection.
Despite concerns about the marsupial’s declining population nationally, the state government in Victoria killed about 686 koalas but the operation was kept secret to prevent a public backlash.
Scientists defended the cull, saying the koalas were starving and that the 8,000-strong colony was too large for the woodland area. According to The Australian newspaper, the koala densities were up to 11 per hectare in the area, compared with sustainable rates of fewer than one koala per hectare across the state of Victoria.
Desley Whisson, a koala expert at Deakin University, said the animals were in poor health and euthanasia was the only option.
“It got to the point where there were no leaves left on the trees and the koalas were literally falling out of trees,” she told Radio 3AW.
“They were dying of starvation. It’s actually not a very nice thing to move a koala; a lot of them will actually die [from stress] during that process.”
The state government said no more secret culls would be allowed but biodiversity experts would be consulted about preventing further suffering.
Frank Fotinas, who runs a holiday caravan park at Cape Otway, supported the cull, saying the area “smelt of dead koalas”.
“A lot more were dying naturally than were euthanased,” he told ABC Radio.
“It smelt like death. You should come and look at the trees. There are hundreds of acres of dead trees.”
Australia’s total koala population has decreased from “millions” early last century to about 50,000 to 100,000, according to conservation groups.
The decline was blamed on widespread hunting for the marsupial’s pelt, as well as introduction of diseases and the impact of development on natural habitats.
A lot of tech companies are starting emphasize community and the greater good.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has pledged 1% of his company's equity, profits, and employees' time to non-profits. Apple CEO Tim Cook told an investor last year to "get out of the stock" if he didn't like the way Apple invested money in environmental projects like solar energy.
Now, add online craft marketplace Etsy to the list.
In its IPO filing today, CEO Chad Dickerson wrote a lot about its culture.
Twice a week, employees take meals at communal picnic tables in an event called "Eatsy." The company gets its food from local businesses "with an emphasis on our health and ecological impact."
And they're really into composting:
We eat on compostable plates, and employees sign up to deliver our compost by bike to a local farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where it is turned back into the soil that produces the food we enjoy together. In this way, Eatsy goes into the very soil we live and work on.
This may seem like something out of the TV show "Portlandia," as one journalist joked on Twitter, but having this kind of approach helps with recruiting — tech employees in particular have a lot of choices about where they can work, and they often want to feel like they're contributing more to society than just pulling a paycheck.
Plus, small tech companies become big tech companies, and people look up to them for an example. If tech companies can't change the world, who can? As Dickerson puts it:
I believe that Etsy can be a public company that holistically integrates the concerns of people and the planet, the present and the future, profitability and accountability. If we succeed, then other companies might replicate our model. We think the world will be a better place for it.
As part of its approach, Etsy won't be giving earnings guidance, as it might encourage Etsy to favor short-term numeric goals and "diminish our ability to fulfill our larger mission over the long-term."
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Former Idaho Governors Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt threatened on Thursday to sue the U.S. Energy Department to prevent what they said was its efforts to turn the state into "a nuclear waste dumping ground."
In a letter notifying the Energy Department of a possible lawsuit, the pair accused it of violating a federal environmental law by planning to ship spent nuclear fuel from elsewhere for study at the Idaho National Laboratory, the department's flagship nuclear research facility.
A 1995 agreement hammered out between Idaho and the Energy Department bans shipments of commercial spent nuclear fuel. The deal stemmed from previous lawsuits by Andrus, a Democrat, and Batt, a Republican, that charged the U.S. government with seeking to turn the sprawling lab complex near Idaho Falls into a de facto dumping ground for radioactive waste.
In January, Idaho's current governor, C.L. "Butch" Otter, and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, both Republicans, expressed conditional support for the shipment of some spent nuclear fuel to the lab for a research program, which would raise the facility's profile and boost the eastern part of the state's economy.
That support was contingent on the Energy Department complying with the 1995 accord, which had ordered it to remove from the state nuclear waste materials stored at Idaho National Lab to reduce impacts on the Snake River Plain aquifer, which supplies drinking water to tens of thousands of Idaho residents.
In Thursday's letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Andrus and Batt alleged the agency had violated a federal law that requires detailed analyses of the environmental impact of activities proposed by the U.S. government. They said it had failed to disclose the scope of its plans for shipping spent nuclear fuel to the state.
"It is vital that the citizens of Idaho be fully informed before the federal government again tries to turn Idaho into a nuclear waste dumping ground," the former governors said.
Otter said Andrus and Batt wrongly wished to clean up Idaho National Lab, only to shut it down.
"Continuing the valuable research at the lab with its world-class facilities and people is the future and one we should all work towards," Otter said in a statement.
The Energy Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham)
In a time when the threat of a sixth mass extinction looms ominously over the planet, most scientists are working hard to save as many species as they can. But there are some experts out there who are actively trying to kill off certain animals — and, according to them, they're doing it for the good of the Earth.
Welcome to the fight against invasive species— species that aren't native to a region but somehow got introduced to the area and managed to stick around and really mess things up.
The thing that really makes an animal "invasive" and not just "non-native" is that it wreaks havoc on the local ecosystem, either by attacking native species, out-competing them for resources like food and habitat space, or just changing the native landscape in a way that hurts the local flora and fauna.
Invasive species can get introduced in all kinds of ways. Some are accidentally carried over on ships from other countries. Some started out as exotic pets, which got loose and successfully bred more generations in their new environment. Even climate change can play a role in the spread of invasive species, allowing some animals to expand their range to new areas that previously weren't warm enough to support them.
Invasive species are a problem all over the world. The US alone is currently home to dozens of invasive plants, animals, and even microbes. The problem is so concerning that President Bill Clinton signed an executive order in 1999 creating a National Invasive Species Council, which keeps tabs on invasive species in the country and drafts management plans to deal with them.
We've selected some of the world's worst offenders to highlight. Here's how they got here, how they're messing with the local ecosystems, and what scientists are doing to try and stop them. While we don't want to make these animals extinct, they definitely need to be controlled or completely removed from some areas of the globe.
The Burmese python is the poster child for the dangers of the exotic pet trade. These animals were originally imported from Southeast Asia as pets. Inevitably, a few escaped and went on to pretty much take over the Everglades.
It's no joke — Burmese pythons have really taken to life in southern Florida. The snakes eat basically everything, and a few have even been found with alligators in their stomachs.
Florida's National Park Service has employed an aggressive eradication campaign for years, and claims to have removed more than 2,000 pythons from the area since 2002 — but it's not enough.
Experts believe this number is just a fraction of the population that now exists in the park, and it's likely that the pythons will never be completely eradicated. But efforts to keep their numbers down may be helpful in making sure the snake doesn't totally destroy the Everglades' unique and fragile ecosystem.
The wild boar has been in the country since the 1500s and was originally imported from Europe as a food source. It's now widespread across the Southern United States and in California. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are now at least 5 million wild boars in 35 states, with the biggest populations in California, Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida.
According to a 2007 report from Portland State University, wild boars can cause a lot of damage to local ecosystems by eating native plants and by rooting in the dirt, which can erode soil, tear up native plants, and even make room for invasive plant species to move in.
In states with established boar populations, the USDA's goal is to suppress populations enough to stop them from causing so much damage. In states with low or emerging populations, the goal is elimination.
Hunting the hogs is a simple control tactic employed in many states. Some states, such as Wisconsin, do not enforce closed hunting seasons for wild boars, and actually allow citizens to shoot the animals without a hunting license.
Some states are resorting to more creative tactics. Alabama has been researching oral contraceptives that work on the boars but not other wild animals. The idea is to put the contraceptives in bait for the pigs to eat, thereby slowing population growth.
It's also illegal to own or sell wild boars in many states, including in Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, and New York.
Here's a species that doesn't cause much trouble for the US, but is a big concern for our Aussie neighbors.
The cane toad was originally supposed to be a force for good, not evil. Native to Central and South America, it was brought to Australia in the mid-1930s in the hopes that it would gobble up cane beetles, which were attacking sugarcane plantations on the continent. Instead, the toads ran amok, reproducing into the millions and becoming a major nuisance on the island.
Cane toads are toxic, so one detrimental side effect is that they tend to poison native animals, like birds or snakes, who eat them. The toad is also thought to compete with native species for resources, particularly nesting space, according to the Australia Department of the Environment.
As one method of control, the Department recommends scooping cane toad eggs out of water sources and discarding them. And more cutting-edge control methods may be on the horizon as well. An Australian news source reported in February that researchers from the University of Sydney were studying a technique that involved luring cane toad tadpoles into traps. This can be done by lacing the traps with cane toad poison, which the tadpoles are apparently attracted to.
But others are taking more extreme measures. Some companies actually sell cane toad leather — that's right, leather made out of the cane toad's skin. Various companies will sell you cane toad leather handbags, belts, and even shoes.
The mighty lion may be king of the jungle, but the lionfish is threatening to become king of the sea. Native to the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea, this flashy fish first showed up off the coast of Florida in 1985, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Nobody is completely sure how it got there, but it looks like it intends to stay.
Since then, the lionfish has crept up the East Coast and around the Gulf Coast of the US and is also showing up off the Atlantic coast of South America. It's one nasty customer, preying on smaller native fish (and also competing with bigger native fish for the food source). In addition, those fancy spines are actually full of venom, and they have no known natural predators.
Ecologists worry that the lionfish could have serious negative impacts on local fish populations and coral reef ecosystems. Florida Fish and Wildlife encourages people to remove lionfish from the water if they see them.
And other organizations are taking things a step further: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) actually encourages people to eat lionfish. While their spines are venomous, their flesh is perfectly safe and — according to NOAA — quite tasty.
Asian tiger mosquito
This nasty insect also has an unusual origin story: It's believed to have arrived from Asia in a shipment of old tires, sent to the states for recycling. Now that it's here, it's not only a major nuisance — it's also a potential public health concern.
The Asian tiger mosquito, easily recognizable with its black-and-white striped body, is an aggressive biter, according to the Center for Invasive Species Research at the University of California, Riverside. And it can serve as a vector for a range of unsavory diseases, including West Nile virus, dengue fever, encephalitis, and particularly chikungunya.
It's already spread to 26 states in the US, and scientists worry that rising temperatures associated with climate change could allow it to push its range even further north in the future.
Controlling the mosquito presents a challenge. Most communities recommend that citizens do their best to eliminate mosquito breeding habitats by getting rid of any stagnant water on their properties. But some researchers are looking into more creative methods. There's been some preliminary research into genetically modifying the Asian tiger mosquito to produce flightless females who would be unable to breed, thus reducing the mosquito population.
The biotech company Oxitech has already succeeded in producing a genetically modified version of the "yellow fever mosquito," the other mosquito commonly found throughout the US — but controversy over the safety of genetically modified organisms has prevented the company from releasing the insects in the country yet. Whether the Asian tiger mosquito will meet with the same challenges remains to be seen.
Okay, so the Asian carp isn't just one species. It's actually a name that's applied to a handful of Eurasian carp species which now exist in the US as well. These include the black carp, silver carp, bighead carp, grass carp, and common carp.
These fish made their way into American waters in a few different ways, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Some escaped from research facilities, some were stocked illegally by individuals, and some were even stocked by federal or state agencies to eat up the algae in ponds used for aquaculture.
These carp are now becoming a serious problem in the Mississippi River basin, where they outcompete other fish for plankton, vegetation, and other food sources. And the black carp actually eats snails and mussels, meaning it could pose a direct threat to invertebrate populations in the US. Additionally, silver carp have a nasty habit of leaping into the air when startled, sometimes landing on boats or the people riding in them and potentially causing damage or injury.
Authorities are concerned that the fish, which has been found as far north as Minnesota, may soon establish itself in the Great Lakes, where it would likely spread quickly and wreak havoc on local fish populations. To that end, experts on working on ways to stop the fish from spreading. The Mississippi National Parks Service reports that some agencies are working on developing effective barriers to keep the fish from swimming further upstream.
Reducing the population that already exists is a trickier problem. Fishing is one obvious technique. And turning the carp into food is a good incentive to fish them. Carp isn't the most popular dish in the US, but it's common cuisine in China and other parts of Asia. So far, there hasn't been much interest in exporting the fish abroad. But Moon River Foods in Mississippi, a subsidiary of a Chinese company, has plans to catch, fillet, and package the fish for commercial sale. And at least one Illinois company is experimenting with turning the carp into fish oil and animal feed.
Brown tree snake
The brown tree snake is probably another case of accidental importation — not in the US, but in Guam. Native to Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, the brown tree snake was likely brought over to Guam in cargo some time in the 1950s. Once there, it wasted no time in causing mayhem among local wildlife populations.
The snake, which eats small animals such as birds and lizards, has caused widespread declines among native wildlife species, including the extinction of several bird species on the island. It's also responsible for frequent power outages, thanks to its habit of slithering onto electrical wires.
The government has launched some imaginative attacks in response. It turns out acetaminophen — a drug commonly used as a pain reliever and fever reducer for humans — is highly toxic to the brown tree snake. So in 2010, federal agencies began implanting acetaminophen tablets into dead mice and dropping them into Guam's forests from helicopters. The mice are outfitted with little parachutes, which are designed to snag in tree branches, leaving the mice dangling enticingly for the snakes to find.
Invasive species may be taking over certain parts of the world, but from genetic engineering to mouse parachutes, at least we're fighting to save our ecosystems with creativity and style.
You know an invention has its drawbacks when even the guy who invented it says he's sorry he did so.
That would be John Sylvan, inventor of the easy-to-use Keurig coffee maker — an invention deemed “the most wasteful form of coffee” on the planet.
Sylan says he regrets the creation largely due to its severe ecological impact. The Keurig uses disposable plastic coffee pods, called "K-Cups," which are not easily recyclable or biodegradable.
“I don’t have one," Sylvan said of the Keurig. "They're kind of expensive to use. Plus it's not like drip coffee is tough to make.”
Convenience-obsessed America is the world's largest coffee consumer. Nearly 85 percent of adults in America drink coffee. According to the National Coffee Association, nearly 1 in 5 adults drink single-cup-brewed coffee in a single day.
Last year, Keurig Green Mountain sold a whopping 9.8 billion K-Cups — enough to circle the Earth more than a dozen times. Keurig says it wants all K-Cups to be recyclable by 2020, but by then it could be too late.
Egg Studios CEO Mike Hachey created the viral video “Kill the K-Cup” last month, which highlights the fact that 13 billion K-Cups went into landfills last year.
"Do you feel OK contributing to that?” Hachey asks.
K-Cups are not the only culprits affecting the environment. America represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, but generates nearly a quarter of the world’s trash.
Many everyday items that we take for granted have a significant impact on Mother Earth. Here are a few humble household supplies that hurt the environment more than you'd expect:
1. Anti-bacterial soap
Nearly 75 percent of anti-bacterial liquid soaps and body washes in the US include an ingredient called triclosan. Research shows that small quantities of triclosan persist after being flushed down the drain, and even after water is treated at sewage plants.
These small quantities then end up in streams and other bodies of water. They can disrupt algae’s ability to perform photosynthesis and build up in fatty tissues of animals higher up in the food chain.
2. Lawn mowers
Mowing the lawn is actually terrible for the environment. According to a Swedish study, a lawn mower produces nearly the same amount of oily air pollution as a 100-mile car trip.
“Lawn and garden equipment really does add to air pollution,” Cathy Milbourn, spokeswoman for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told ABC last year. "People can reduce the impact it has by using [lawn equipment] in the early morning or in the late afternoon. Or perhaps not at all.”
3. Tea bags
Most of the tea brewed in America is made with tea bags, which means that an average tea drinker consuming 5 cups a day gets through about 13 sq meters of perforated paper every year.
According to a report by Which? Gardening, teabags produced by the some of the top tea manufacturers — including Twinnings, Tetley and PG Tips — are only about 75 percent biodegradable.
While most teabags are made with paper fiber, they also include plastic polypropylene — an ingredient that makes teabags heat-resistant but is not fully biodegradable.
Whitney Kakos, the sustainability manager for Teadirect, says the use of polypropylene is an “industry-wide practice.” There are also the luxurious silken (basically plastic) tea bags. Supposedly of higher quality and visually appealing, these bags are actually harmful to consumers and contribute to landfill waste.
4. Plastic bottles
About 50 billion bottles of water are consumed every year, 30 million of which are consumed in the US alone. Nearly 1,500 water bottles are consumed per second in America. About 17 million barrels of oil are used every year to produce these bottles.
The national recycle rate for PETs, or bottles made with polyethylene terephthalate, is only 23 percent — which means 80 percent of plastic water bottles end up in landfills. And even if we were on our environmentally best behavior, not all plastic bottles placed in designated containers are recycled because only certain types of plastic can be recycled in limited municipalities.
Found in everything from toothpaste to exfoliating face washes and body scrubs, microbeads actually wreak havoc on the environment.
According to a recent study by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, these tiny pieces of plastic find their way down our drains through filtration systems to the ocean. Soaking up toxins like a sponge, they then contribute to the plastic pollution of water bodies, potentially starve coral reefs of proper food and negatively affect other marine organisms.
6. Disposable razors
Single-use razor made of polystyrene. (Hispalois/Wikimedia Commons)
According to the EPA, about 2 billion razors are thrown away every year. Although you can recycle the steel blades, your good ol’ disposable razor most likely makes its way to the landfill.
Add that to the higher environmental cost of production using raw materials and the water used while actually shaving and you’ve got one of the most wasteful bathroom products around.
7. Paper cups
If you think your morning paper cup of coffee is recyclable and environmentally friendly, think again.
Every year, Americans toss out more than 80 billion single-use cups, thanks to our morning coffee runs. These cups are also coated with low-density, heat-resistant polyethylene that is not biodegradable. In addition to these cups' heading for a landfill and taking more than 20 years to decompose, the very process of making them is extremely harmful to the environment. Production consumes forests and large volumes of water, and expels dirty water.
8. Wooden chopsticks from restaurants
About 3.8 million trees are torn down to produce a staggering 57 billion disposable pairs of chopsticks every year, half of which are used within China. About 77 percent are exported to Japan, 21 percent to South Korea and 2 percent to America.
But despite taxes levied in 2006 and warnings of government regulations to monitor production in 2010, disposable chopstick use, production and discard is on the rise and continues to devastate forests in China at an alarming rate.
Remember when the fight against phasing out inefficient incandescent light bulbs was a big deal? Well it seems the sky didn’t fall. Just recently, Canada joined the United States, the European Union, and Australia among several countries (see map below) to phase out the production and import of inefficient incandescent light bulbs. While the jury is out on what exactly the best next standard is, at least they’re all much, much more efficient.
While the basic incandescent light bulb is being phased out, LED light bulbs are starting to take off. And no wonder, they’re 90% more efficient than the standard light bulb, and last 25 times longer. Talk about bang for your buck. But does this add up to anything really? Well, consider that Canadians alone spend 300 million (CAD) per year, equal to about 10 CAD per person per year. It’s a small chunk per person, but add the longer lifetimes of the new light bulbs, and you can see why consumers are starting to take note, not to mention business owners who use them in bulk and will see a quicker payback.
Fun/important fact: halogen lamps are incandescent, just 28% more efficient than the basic model. So really, the controversy was less than about banning one particular light bulb, and more about setting an efficiency standard, letting the market provide options. And yet, there sure was a fracas surrounding the introduction of the standard, but here we are, buying more efficient light bulbs that save us money over their lifetime.
While LEDs are doing well, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs emit light in a similar color range to incandescent light bulbs, and are thus for some a good and comfortable next step. Meanwhile, LED light bulbs have come down in price by about80% in the last five years, somewhat akin to the cost crash of solar PV and lithium-ion batteries.
More recently, the LED (light emitting diode) inventors were awarded a Nobel Prize for their efforts, and where some lauded their achievement in being able to reduce electricity consumption, naysayers believe a rebound effect will wipe out efficiency increases, which is as exaggerated as it sounds. Nevertheless, energy efficiency and monetary savings are happening, and while the world is not really a color shade different today, it’s arguably a less wasteful one.
After going unexplored for centuries, one of Australia's biggest marine features is finally giving up its secrets. The Perth Canyon, roughly the length of the Grand Canyon, twice as deep and reaching depths of 4000 metres below the waves, is just 20 kilometres west of Rottnest Island, yet it has never been properly surveyed - until now.
Despite being so close to Perth and Fremantle, little is known about life in this abyss. But an ocean expedition currently exploring the canyon is aiming to change that.
Well fathomed, but a mystery
Submarine canyons are global biodiversity hotspots with high biomass and biological productivity – and the 220km-long Perth Canyon is no exception. From the canyon’s head, in waters just 50m deep, to where its mouth opens out onto the abyssal plain 4000m down, it is thought that many species cling to its 70-degree sloping walls.
The canyon, an extension of the Swan River system, was formed over tens of millions of years. It is the main biodiversity hotspot between Ningaloo Reef and Kangaroo Island, and marks the southern boundary for many tropical species groups. Deep ocean currents upwelling in the canyon create a cold-water, nutrient-rich oasis under the warm waters of the Leeuwin current, attracting blue whales and other large animals that migrate to the canyon seasonally to feed.
The Australian government has proposed that the canyon be declared a marine park.
A team of scientists from the University of Western Australia, together with researchers from the Western Australian Museum, CSIRO and the Institute of Marine Sciences in Italy, are spending 12 days investigating the Perth Canyon on board the R/V Falkor, a research vessel run by the Schmidt Ocean Institute.
Using state-of-the-art mapping systems and a remotely operated vehicle to examine the life in the canyon, the cruise’s main goal is to examine and collect a variety of marine organisms that are living at great depths, particularly deep-sea corals. These corals, like their shallow-water counterparts, form reef structures that create local biodiversity hotspots by attracting a range of other animals.
The expedition has already discovered an exciting deep-sea community within the canyon. The photos below show that we have glimpsed communities that survive in total darkness on the hard rock of the canyon’s walls, 1600m below the surface – the first time that the canyon’s deep-sea dwellers have been filmed.
Among the creatures living in the canyon’s depths are: Venus flytrap anemones, Brisingid seastars, golden coral (Metallogorgia), basket star (Gorgonocephalidae) and mushroom soft coral (Anthomastus). You can follow the expedition’s discoveries here.
Putting species on the map
The cruise has been improving the mapping of the canyon’s physical features using multi-beam echo-sounders aboard the R/V Falkor. We have completed more than 1,000km of survey lines, covering 4,375 square kilometres. It is truly a huge valley – the maximum water depth recorded in the canyon was 4,376m.
The data revealed the stunning nature of the undersea terrain, with vertical cliff faces of up to 600m and gorges and valleys matching the scenery found in the world’s most celebrated land-based canyons. These different landforms provide a wide array of habitats, from rocky cliff faces and outcrops, to muddy seafloor, to the dark water column, where there is little or no sign of light from above nor of the seafloor below.
At the canyon’s western, deeper end, the northern wall is much more rugged than the southern wall, with several semicircular features showing evidence of landslides. As the chart above shows, the dog-leg section of the canyon also features a very narrow gorge.
Add to this the fact that the canyon’s waters are nutrient-rich, having originated from the Antarctic region, and there is a rich, varied selection of habitats in the canyon’s inky depths. Clearly this is a place with a lot of secrets still to yield.
You can watch a live stream of footage from R/V Falkor’s remote submersible vehicles here until March 12.
Charitha Pattiaratchi receives funding from the Intergrated Marine Observing System and Bushfire Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. The data reported here were collected aboard RV Falkor operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute.
Malcolm McCulloch receives funding from The Australian Research Council.
The loneliest whale has plenty of friends it's never met.
The large donation, reports The Hollywood Reporter, was the final push for the project to reach its goal of $300,000.
The so-called "lonely" whale is also known by the nickname "52" for the frequency of its call: 52 Hertz.
That's also what makes this whale the loneliest whale on Earth – her call is outside the normal communication range for other whales, so they can't hear her. This is devastating, because whales are social animals that hang out in groups and call to each other to find mates and communicate with other members of their pod.
William Watkins of The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was the first to listen to and record 52's anomalous calls in 1989.
In 2004 Watkins and colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution published a report on 12 years of tracking the 52 Hz call, which they only heard from one whale per season.
The 52 Hz whale call shared a repetitive, low-frequency tonal character with baleen whale calls like those of blue and fin whales, but didn't match any of the whale species in the large swath of the Northeast Pacific the researchers monitored.
The scientists didn't think the call was quite different enough to represent a new species, but think that 52 may be either a unique whale, or a hybrid of two whale species.
Here's her unique (and very sad) call:
Based on listening to the whale's calls for years, researchers think it might be a hybrid. Her migration patterns most closely resemble those of the blue whale and the fin whale. But sadly for 52, its call frequency is way outside the range of 10-39 Hz for the blue whale and 20 Hz for the fin — she probably couldn't even talk to her own parents.
Grenier and Zeman's Kickstarter project will fund a scientific expedition to tag and acoustically monitor hybrid whales, as well as a documentary film about the expedition. The 20-day expedition will venture 400 miles off the coast of California, and also aims to collect data about noise pollution in the oceans.
In an interview with Deadline Hollywood, Grenier speculated about what finding 52 might reveal.
"It would also be the first time anyone has seen 52, so we would observe him to see if he was, in fact, swimming with a pod or on the periphery, which we hope will help us answer the question of whether he's really 'lonely' or not," Grenier said.
Whether the "loneliest" whale swims in a pod or solo, it does have friends in high places.
Bonobo poop matters. Well, maybe not the poop itself, but what's in it.
You see, bonobos eat a lot of fruit, and fruit contains seeds. Those seeds travel through a bonobo's digestive system while the bonobo itself travels through the landscape. A few hours later, the seeds end up being deposited far from where the fruits were plucked. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where new trees come from.
But what if there were no apes? A new study published February 27 in the journal Oryx found that many tree and plant species in the Democratic Republic of the Congo rely almost exclusively on bonobos for seed dispersal. In the LuiKotale forest, where the study was conducted, 18 plant species were completely unable to reproduce if their seeds did not first travel through a bonobo's guts. According to the paper if the bonobos disappeared, the plants would also likely go extinct.
The research, by biologist David Beaune of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in France, found that bonobos have a pretty amazing role in the forest. They eat for about 3.5 hours every day and travel a mean of 1.2 kilometers from meal sites before defecating and depositing the seeds that have passed through their systems. And we're not talking about a small number of seeds: Previous research has estimated that an astonishing 11.6 million seeds travel through an average bonobo's guts during its lifetime.
The bonobo has two major functions here. First of all, many seeds will not germinate well unless they have been "handled" (as scientists call it) by another species. Stomach acids and intestinal processes weaken a seed's tough external coating, making it more able to absorb water and later sprout.
Secondly, many seeds won't succeed if they remain too close to their parental trees. Beaune found that the seeds that fell to the ground near their parents either did not germinate or the seedlings did not survive because they were choked off by the nearby mature plants. For example, Beaune found that Guinea plum (Parinari excelsa) seeds that fell near their parent trees sprouted pretty well into seedlings but all such young plants died off before they could reach the sapling stage. Most other tree seeds from other species didn't even sprout.
According to Beaune, no other species in LuiKotale have travel patterns sufficient to serve the same dispersal service as bonobos. Several monkey species do eat the same fruits, but they stay close to home and therefore don't fill the same ecological role.
Unfortunately, bonobos face a constant threat of poaching for the bushmeat trade, putting them at risk of extinction in many parts of their range. If the bonobos disappeared from LuiKotale or any of their other habitats, that could create a cascading extinction cycle. Not only would the trees disappear, but so could many of the other species that also rely on the trees for food or shelter. It's a condition known as "empty forest syndrome"—the forest itself may still exist, but its biodiversity levels will crash, leaving it a pale shadow of its former self.
Beaune's study focused specifically on bonobos in a single forest, but he wrote that it has relevance to other ape species such as chimpanzees, gorillas and gibbons, all of which fulfill similar seed-dispersal roles. He suggested that conserving all ape species means also conserving trees, pollinators and the methods by which seeds disperse.
In other words, protect the poop. It matters.
Hurricane Sandy was not an aberration. It was New York City's first taste of a trend that could continue for centuries — the storm surge that flooded the city's coastal areas could become a much more frequent — and destructive — occurrence.
Land ice at both of the planet's poles is melting, causing our oceans to rise. But Antarctica, known as the sleeping giant of sea level rise, is melting faster than scientists previously thought.
In a bit of cruel irony, as Antarctica's ice falls into the ocean, the distribution of sea level changes could actually hit the world's largest cumulative contributor to climate change — the United States — harder than elsewhere.
The New York City Panel on Climate Change recently said that sea level rise in the five boroughs won't be the two to four feet that it had previously estimated, but possibly as much as six feet. Cities like Washington DC, Norfolk, Miami, and Seattle could also be hard hit by sea level rise, inundating coastal infrastructure and even potentially forcing the relocation inland of tens of millions of inhabitants.
"Sea level rise gives climate change an address, because it is the climate impact we can talk about at the address level," Benjamin Strauss, Vice President for Sea Level and Climate Impacts at the independent science and journalism organization Climate Central, told VICE News. "You can literally walk down a street and give different sea level risk assessments for different properties."
One of the big question marks surrounding how much sea levels will rise in the coming decades comes down to the extent of melting in Antarctica.
Last May, Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California Irvine, along with a team of other scientists, found that a section of the West Antarctic ice sheet around the Amundsen Sea had entered a state of irreversible retreat and could cause over one meter of global sea level rise, or about 4 feet.
"The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable," he said. "The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers. At this point, the end of this sector appears to be inevitable."
Rignot and his team looked at four decades of observations over which the melt flow of West Antarctica's glaciers steadily increased. He describes the changes to Antarctica's ice sheets as "staggering."
In 1997, Rignot recognized rapid fluctuations of one glacier in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica, a place called Pine Island. By 2008, he says, the changes had become unlike anything he had ever seen, became so apparent that he realized it was not just a hiccup in the system — it was something much more significant.
Rignot and his team collected a large volume of data in the Amundsen Sea sector between 2009 and 2012 and the following year concluded that the glaciers were retreating into territories without any hills or bumps to block them from melting into the sea.
"The signal was so large, so persistent," he says, "that it could not be discounted or ignored."
Rignot says the most worrisome glacier in the Amundsen Sea sector is Thwaites, a glacier similar in size to Cambodia, not confined to a valley, and which reaches the deepest part of West Antarctica. In Rignot's opinion, Thwaites has already entered a stage of advanced retreat.
"The glaciers in this sector are going now, they started to do so in the 1980s, and have passed the point of no return," Rignot told VICE News.
The disappearance of glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector, a small fraction of the ice sheet, could trigger the collapse of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, which could raise global sea levels by up to five meters — or about 15 feet.
Such an event could severely submerge the world's heavily populated coastal areas, and force us to redraw the world map as we know it.
"Antarctica is remote yet relevant to everyone everywhere," Rignot told VICE News. "Sea level rise is global. The consequences are global. The process is operating with tremendous inertia, there is no red button to stop it, we can only, perhaps, slow it down."
The largest uncertainty surrounding the retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is the rate at which it's glaciers will melt. Rignot says it could be as rapid as one century.
"I think of it like a pile of ice cubes in a warm room," said Climate Central's Strauss. "We know the pile will melt, even if it's difficult to say how quickly."
For the world's largest cumulative greenhouse gas emitter, however, Antarctic melting could have particularly dire consequences.
In a paper published this past December, Ted Scambos, Senior Research Scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota found that melting in Antarctica will have an "amplified impact" on North America, as well as Europe.
"As Antarctica's total ice mass decrease…, the local gravitational attraction with the ocean decreases. Sea level actually decreases near the continent, at the expense of greater increase in all other parts of the global ocean," they say. "The resulting net change leads to a distribution of sea-level increases that is far more serious for the North American coastline than for most of the southern hemisphere."
Strauss likens the growing chorus of scientific concern over the rate of melting in Antarctica to a hurricane warning. Every hour that we have to better prepare for the arrival of the storm — or rising sea levels — means a greater likelihood of avoiding loss of life and property.
"The same thing is true for sea level rise projections, except that we are going to need decades, not hours or days, to prepare." Strauss told VICE News. "And unlike a hurricane blowing over, the rising sea does not go back down."
Follow Abby Ellis on Twitter: @abbyc_ellis
AUSTIN, Texas -- For its next trick, Google will begin flying 84 foot-long airborne wind turbines, said Astro Teller, the head of Google X, the company's lab of moonshot projects.
The enormous kite-like turbines will take flight next month, Teller said at the keynote capping off the Interactive portion of South by Southwest.
Google has been working on Project Makani, as these wind turbines are called, since buying a company of the same name in 2013, but until now, the search company has only been testing 28-feet long test models. The new kite turbines set to be introduced next month will be full scale models.
Why flying turbines? Wind speed is faster and more consistent at higher altitudes, but it's impractical to build taller ground-based wind turbines due to their weight (we're talking hundreds of tons), Teller said. That's why Google is focusing on airborne turbines instead. "There's an enormous benefit to going up higher," said Teller, speaking at the Austin Convention Center.
The Project Makani kites look like the wingspan of a large airplane minus the cabin in the middle. Each kite has eight propellers that it uses to take off and a tether that keeps it attached to the ground. After the kite ascends to the limit of the tether, which is more than 1,400 feet, the propellers stop climbing, Teller said. At that point, they begin serving as flying wind turbines and the kite starts doing large circles in the sky. Combined, this generates 600 Kilowatts of energy that is continuously sent down the tether.
"If this works as designed it would meaningfully speed up the global move to renewable energy," said Teller, whose title is "captain of moonshots."
Google has been flying its 28-foot models in Pescadero, California -- one of the "gustiest" places in the world, Teller said. There wind speed and wind direction can drastically change in a matter of seconds. Despite the harsh conditions, Teller said Google failed to crash a Makani kite after more than 100 hours of flying, and that's not exactly a good thing for Google.
Teller's entire keynote focused on the benefits of failing fast. When Google fails on one of its experiments, it allows the company to learn something new and improve its projects. CEO Larry Page told Teller he wanted at least five kites to crash, but since none of them did, they now go into the full scale model testing without that knowledge.
"We're all kind of conflicted about that," Teller said. "We didn't want to see it crash, but we also feel like we failed some how. There's magic in everyone believing that we might have failed because we didn't fail."
Inside towering clouds of volcanic ash, stunning lightning storms can create tiny crystal balls, a new study reports.
Researchers recently discovered smooth glass spheres in ash from explosive volcanic eruptions. Kimberly Genareau, a volcanologist at the University of Alabama, first spotted the orbs while scanning ash from Alaska's 2009 Mount Redoubt eruption with a powerful microscope. She also found them in ash from Iceland's 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption.
Both volcanoes blasted out billowing ash clouds that triggered spectacular displays of volcanic lightning. Inside these murky clouds, ash particles rub together, generating static electricity that discharges as lightning. [Big Blasts: History's 10 Most Destructive Volcanoes]
Genareau and her colleagues said they think the lightning displays forged the glass balls from particles of volcanic glass. Their findings were published Feb. 27 in the journal Geology.
Volcanoes spit out jagged glass shards during eruptions, along with sharp scraps of rocks and minerals. But lightning within the ash cloud can heat the air to 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit (30,000 degrees Celsius) for a few millionths of a second, melting the glass particles. These molten droplets then form into balls as they fall through the air, Genareau said.
Researchers previously knew that volcanic eruptions could produce glass, but the new findings show how that glass can be made into spheres.
"You don't need volcanic lightning to make glass [in ash], just to get that unusual shape," Genareau told Live Science.
The round spherules from Mount Redoubt and Eyjafjallajökull are only 50 microns across (1/25,000th of an inch), hundreds of times smaller than the spherules that can be ejected during meteorite impacts. Fountaining lava caught by the wind can also form such glass spherules, called Pele's tears.
Some of the glass spherules examined in the study were as smooth as crystal balls, but others were hazed by cracks and pits that may have formed when water expanded into steam as the glass melted.
The research team is planning further studies into how and why the spherules formed. For instance, the scientists verified that a violent shock can produce glass spheres in ash when they found a version of the tiny balls in ash left over from experiments by researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
In the experiments, the Canterbury researchers, who are also co-authors on the new findings, zapped artificial ash to investigate how volcanic ash disrupts high-voltage insulators. Their tests were similar to lightning discharges inside an ash cloud, Genareau said.
Now, after studying samples from several eruptions, the researchers suspect that it is the size of the ash particles that determines whether the glass spheres appear after volcanic lightning strikes, Genareau said. All the spherules found so far are about 50 microns or smaller in size, she said. Larger ash fragments were partially melted, but didn't completely transform into spherical shapes.
Genareau said she hopes that the new discovery will spark a search for similar spheres in older ash deposits, which could provide new clues about where and when volcanic lightning strikes.
"Not much is known about how often volcanic lightning occurs, and this provides physical evidence that may be preserved in the geologic record," she said.
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Coastal residents in northeast Australia were urged on Thursday to prepare for dangerous tidal surges along the Great Barrier Reef and stay indoors when a powerful tropical cyclone hits.
Cyclone Nathan was abut 300 km (185 miles) east-northeast of the holiday town of Cooktown, moving at 8 kph (5 mph) and intensifying as it approached land.
It is expected to hit the coast on Friday.
"Nobody's around," said David Smith, owner of the ScubaDave diving school. "Everyone that came to the reef to dive is gone and won't be back until after Nathan passes."
A month ago, Cyclone Marcia slammed into the southern part of the same coast, causing billions of dollars in damage and leaving thousands homeless or without electricity.
Meteorologists predict Nathan will churn up winds nearing 300 kph (185 mph) from late on Thursday.
The sea is likely to rise steadily up to a level well above the normal tide, with damaging waves and flooding of some low-lying but g areas, which could also extend some way inland," the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Emergency officials said hundreds of residents, along with workers at a silica mine and the Lizard Island resort on the Great Barrier Reef had been evacuated.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said up to 9,000 people could be directly in the path of the cyclone by the time it builds to category four strength, the second highest level.
"A category four crossing is very serious," she told reporters. "To be safe, you must stay in your homes."
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services regional director Wayne Coutts said residents had limited time to prepare and people should be ready for a loss of power and water.
The cyclone is small in terms of area but has entered a climatic environment in which rapid intensification can occur, meteorologists said.
Emergency workers were counting on the cyclone coming ashore close to a low tide, mitigating the force of a storm surge.
The cyclone is expected to lose much of its punch over land but meteorologists warned it could reform again if it reaches the warm waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria, 250 km (155 miles) from the coast.
The archipelago nation of Vanuatu was devastated last week by Cyclone Pam, one of the worst storms ever to hit the South Pacific.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)
LEARN MORE: 7 animals humans are trying to kill off
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Climate Prediction Center just released its 2015 Spring Outlook.
The lower Missouri and Ohio River basins, as well as the New England seaboard have a greater than 50% chance of their rivers reaching moderate flood stage. And California is likely in for some higher-than-usual temperatures, as well as continuing and expanding drought. The South and Southwest will probably see more rain than average this year, though that won't end drought conditions in Arizona and Utah.
Lots of snow means potential floods in the East
If you live in the eastern Midwest, Northeast, or the South, chances are above 50% that you'll experience minor flooding this spring, as NOAA's map below shows.
The darker blue areas mean more moderate flooding, which might result in evacuations near rivers. Minor flooding can cover roads, but property damage is usually minimal.
Spring's potential for moderate flooding in New England is thanks to this winter's record-breaking snowfall and river ice. All that water has to go somewhere.
Rain for the South, but not for the places that need it
Spring may be soggy for most of the South: NOAA predicts heavier than average precipitation for that region, which could also add to potential flooding.
New Mexico, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas are looking at a probability between 40-50% that spring will bring more rain than average this year. The Southwest, Hawaii, and parts of Alaska (though the map below only shows the lower 48) will also likely get more rain.
NOAA predicts Minnesota and Wisconsin and parts of Washington and Oregon have up to a 50% chance of getting less precipitation than normal this year. For the rest of us, there's just no way to know yet.
The west is heating up and drying out
As far as temperature, most of the country has a less than 33% chance of experiencing a warmer or colder than average spring (the white part of the map).
But things are looking steamy for the already drought-stricken western third of the country.
Probabilities are as high as 70% that spring on the West Coast will be warmer than average. NOAA predicts Alaska and Hawaii (not pictured on the map below) are likely to experience above-average temperatures as well.
Unless you live in eastern New Mexico or Texas, according to the NOAA forecast, spring won't likely be colder than usual:
Hotter temperatures will exacerbate already-exceptional drought in the West
More than 40% of the state of California is currently experiencing "exceptional drought," according to NOAA, and drought conditions are expected to continue or get even worse for the entire state.
The Pacific Northwest and Southwest, plus the state of Minnesota, should also expect droughts to continue or get worse. NOAA predicts drought conditions will expand into the areas marked in yellow on the map below:
The new Republican majority in Congress really, really doesn't like climate science.
GOP budgeters in the House of Representatives have singled out the study of climate change by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an example of government "waste" they aim to eliminate.
The framework laid out by the House Budget Committee this week lists climate science as an example of "areas where there should be room to cut waste, eliminate redundancies and end the abuse or misuse of taxpayer dollars."
David G. Hawkins, director of the climate program at the environmentalist Natural Resources Defense Council, called the swipe at climate science "stupid but not surprising."
"It's just a political stunt for these people," Hawkins told VICE News. "Because they are so locked into denial on the issue of climate protection, they think it's politically easy to identify these activities to cut," he said. "It's very unwise, and most of the time the people who are sponsoring these cuts are the ones who say we ought to listen to our military leaders."
Representative Tom Price, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, did not respond to a VICE News request for comment.
The idea that the buildup of carbon emissions in the atmosphere is warming the planet may remain politically controversial, but it's accepted as fact by an overwhelming majority of scientists. And generals and admirals — hardly your typical tree-huggers — see trouble in a future of rising oceans, stronger storms, and prolonged drought.
In a 2014 strategy document, the Pentagon called climate change "a significant challenge for the United States" and said its expected effects were "threat multipliers" that will worsen conditions in already volatile regions.
For instance, a recent scientific study argued that a five-year drought in Syria displaced 1.5 million farmers from the countryside, fueling unemployment in the cities, and adding more tinder to the smoldering discontent that erupted into open revolt in 2011.
"Climate change is really a cross-cutting issue," Andrew Holland, a senior fellow at the American Security Project, told VICE News. "You can't look at water security issues without talking about the impact of climate change. You can't even talk about a lot of security issues around the world without how water is related to that, and how climate change is related to that."
He added: "To prohibit [the Department of Defense] from doing work on climate change is taking an element of reality out of their planning process."
The GOP budget resolution will have little direct impact. There's no single line item in either department's budget for climate research, and there's no specific legislative language in the resolution preventing research, Holland said. Any explicit prohibition on climate studies would likely be threatened with a presidential veto.
But taking this sort of swing at the subject is a shot across the bow of the national security bureaucracy, warning them away from raising the subject, he said.
"I think they just frankly don't like that his sort of messaging is coming out of the DOD and the intelligence community, and they're trying to silence it," Holland told VICE News.
The House isn't alone: On the other side of the Capitol, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas — a potential GOP presidential contender — has come out swinging against NASA's science budget.
Cruz is the chairman of a Senate Commerce subcommittee that oversees the space agency. In budget hearing last week, he complained about "a disproportionate increase" in spending on its Earth science division, where most NASA's climate research is housed.
Cruz said his panel's job would be "to refocus NASA's energies on its core priority of exploring space." NASA Administrator Charles Bolden replied that it will be hard to launch rockets if his primary launch facility, Florida's low-lying Kennedy Space Center, is under water.
In January, senators voted almost unanimously for a resolution acknowledging that climate change "is real and not a hoax"— but avoided any mention of a cause. The sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, told VICE News that he trusts the judgment of military leaders "who agree that climate change affects our national security."
"To keep our country safe, our national security leaders must anticipate and prepare for these changes," Whitehouse said. "Restricting their ability to do so, just because you don't like the issue, is irresponsible."
Whitehouse's measure was so broad that it had the support of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, author of the 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Climate Change Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.
Since Republicans took over the Senate in January, Inhofe has been the chairman of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. A month after that vote, he tossed a snowball onto the Senate floor in an effort to demonstrate that Washington's latest snowstorm proved there was no such thing — a move President Barack Obama called "disturbing" in a recent interview with VICE News.
Say hello to the Ili pika:
This furry ball of cuteness is an endangered mammal closely related to rabbits and hares. The species was first discovered in 1983 and individuals have rarely been seen since.
It was first spotted in the Tian Shan Mountains in China, where it makes the holes and cracks of the cliffs its home. Despite other family of pika living across the Northern Hemisphere, these mountains are the only place this Ewok lookalike seems to feel at home.
Although scientists know where to find the Ili pika, it's still extremely hard to get on camera. For example, between 2002 and 2003 two researchers, Andrew Smith at Arizona State University and Li Wei-Dong at the Xinjiang Academy of Environmental Protection in Beijing, completed seven trips to twelve different sites to study population status of the animal. After 37 total days of attempted spottings, the two men came up completely empty handed.
Then, last summer, the man who originally discovered the species in '83, Weidong Li, had a chance encounter with the elusive creature. He and a group of researchers were out in the Tianshan Mountains for, what else, pika spotting, when around noon they saw one and snapped the iconic picture above.
Only 29 of these individual animals have been seen alive. A rare find, indeed!
The Ili pika was not always endangered.
In the early '90s scientists estimated that about 2000 Ili pikas thrived in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Although Smith and Wei-Dong did not see a live Ili pika during their expedition, they found the animal's characteristic fecal deposits and distinctive snow tracks.
From this, they concluded that the population is not nearly as robust as it used to be. In their paper, published in 2005 in the journal Oryx, Smith and Wei-Dong, suggested the animal be added to the endangered species list.
"We recommend that the Ili pika's Red List status be changed from Vulnerable to Endangered," they wrote in the paper.
Recent years have not shown any improvement. Over the last decade, the Ili pika population has continued to decline by an estimated 55%.
The reason for their dwindling numbers isn't clear, but Smith suspects it's related to disease, increased nearby human activity, and/or climate change.