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- 07/02/15--11:15: _A sea turtle strapp...
- 07/07/15--12:26: _Scientists think th...
- 07/08/15--09:20: _If you're not freak...
- 07/08/15--14:34: _McDonald's Filet-o-...
- 07/09/15--09:00: _4 unbelievable chem...
- 07/09/15--10:31: _Ocean life looks un...
- 07/09/15--11:33: _Hawaii is throwing ...
- 07/10/15--08:50: _Amazing footage of ...
- 07/13/15--08:30: _Slimy green algae i...
- 07/13/15--12:33: _Yellowstone is in t...
- 07/13/15--12:50: _This town has been ...
- 07/14/15--07:57: _Entire species foun...
- 07/14/15--08:24: _Meet the scientists...
- 07/14/15--08:25: _UK Minister: There'...
- 07/14/15--09:53: _FEMA is planning fo...
- 07/14/15--10:11: _Business Insider is...
- 07/14/15--15:35: _Alarming talk about...
- 07/15/15--06:30: _Humans are adding h...
- 07/15/15--07:30: _6 super weird poten...
- 07/15/15--08:47: _Richard Branson onc...
- 07/07/15--12:26: Scientists think they’ve found a way to stop hunger
- 07/08/15--09:20: If you're not freaking out about the ocean, you should be
- 07/08/15--14:34: McDonald's Filet-o-Fish might be causing some problems in Alaska
- 07/09/15--09:00: 4 unbelievable chemical substances humans have discovered
- 07/09/15--10:31: Ocean life looks unreal in this time-lapsed and hyper-focused video
- 07/13/15--12:33: Yellowstone is in trouble unless we can bring back the beavers
- 07/13/15--12:50: This town has been burning for 50 years
- 07/14/15--07:57: Entire species found piled in a shipping crate
- Very large risks to global food security, including a tripling of food prices
- Unprecedented migration overwhelming international assistance
- Increased risk of terrorism as states fail
- Lethal heat even for people resting in shade
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- 07/15/15--06:30: Humans are adding hours of flight time to airplane travel every year
- 07/15/15--07:30: 6 super weird potential side effects of the California drought
- 6 Unexpected Effects of Climate Change
- 7 Easy Ways to Save Water This Summer (Op-Ed)
- Creepy, Crawly & Incredible: Photos of Spiders
A bird's-eye view is so 2014.
If you want to see what's happening under the sea, you need to consult with a turtle.
The video campaign is aimed at raising awareness of the reef, which is currently disappearing because its diverse plants and animals are having a tough time coping with climate change. A controversial practice known as sea floor "dredging," a process of scraping large areas of the sea floor to enlarge shipping channels, is adding to the stress on the reef.
Created by the WWF's Christine Hof and marine biologist Ian Bell, the video starts with the GoPro being strapped on.
Then the turtle cruises underwater — notice the other turtle zooming to the right.
And he comes up for air.
Eventually, the turtle knocks the camera off.
A curious fish investigates.
"The Great Barrier Reef is home to almost 6000 species,"the original Youtube description reads."Thanks to GoPro, here’s what the journey through it looks like for one of them: a turtle’s eye view of the Reef."
On Thursday, UNESCO decided against putting the Great Barrier Reef — which is currently threatened by climate change — on their 'in danger' list, which signifies that a place may be losing the properties that make it universally valuable.
Australian environmental minister Greg Hunt took that as a win for the country because it shows they've made strides in trying to save it from destruction.
In the past, the reef was handed what some have called a "death sentence" because of the encroach of climate change and Australia's continued industrialization. Already, 50% of the corals in the reef are gone, and the World Wildlife Foundation says that the Australian coal industry — which continues to boom — has been using the reef as a dumping ground.
Hunt says the decision to keep the Reef from the worst category of endangerment shows that Australia has made huge strides in trying to save it from destruction. But the struggle isn't over: So far, Australia has promised to reduce pollution by 80% by 2025 and disallow the dumping of dredged materials around the reef.
This adorable video certainly adds to that awareness.
Watch the full video below.
According to the World Food Program, some 795 million people – one in nine people on earth – don’t have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That will only get worse with the next global food crisis, predicted to occur within four years by experts at the recent Third International Conference on Global Warming and Food Security.
Unprecedented population growth, increasing conflict and displacement, natural calamities and emergence of major epidemics are some of the factors that will compound complexities of global food security over the coming years. And recent natural disasters in food-exporting Asian and African countries, as well as regions like California, may hasten a crisis.
In the face of these facts, any technique that can improve food production would be a welcome development. To counteract the coming problem, it is imperative to try novel and daring solutions across the agricultural food chain, including the gene modification of crops.
While genetically modified (GM) crops could be our best hope for feeding an increasingly hungry planet, they need to be developed within a regulatory framework that takes potential risks into account and protects farmers, consumers and the environment.
GM crops in the developing world
Gene modification can produce nutrient-rich, highly productive, drought- and pest-resistant crop varieties much needed by small-scale farmers globally. For example, scientists at biotech company Cellectis have extended the shelf life of potatoes by disabling a single gene that promotes accumulation of sweet sugars within the tuber. Using this technique, they also reduced its production of cancer-promoting agents including acrylamide, which is often produced when a potato is fried.
One can imagine these kinds of improvements being of particular interest to farmers in Africa and the rest of the developing world, who rely on staple crops including corn, rice, potatoes and soy. Along with genetically modified cotton, GM corn and soy are currently grown in the African countries of Burkina Faso, Egypt and South Africa.
In most African countries, however, GM crops remain a farfetched idea. Despite important economic progress and agricultural successes, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Africa remains the world’s most food-insecure continent. One-third of our continent’s population is chronically undernourished. Chronic malnutrition, or “hidden hunger,” though often invisible, is devastating and deadly. Over half of children’s deaths globally can be averted if children have access to nutritious foods.
How does gene editing work?
Conventionally, the production of genetically modified organisms involves inserting desired foreign genes into the genome of a plant or animal. But a different technique known as gene editing modifies plant, as well as animal and human, genomes without the introduction of foreign genetic materials.
Gene editing uses biological catalysts called transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) that can be engineered to bind to any DNA sequence. Scientists can introduce these enzymes into living cells where they cut out unwanted pieces of DNA, in effect editing the genome. This technique, known as TALEN-mediated genome engineering, is also referred to as Genome Editing with Engineered Nucleases.
Genome editing is not a new idea. It has been used to create gene edits in human stem cells as well as in worms, fish, mice and cattle with varying degrees of success. In the laboratory, TALENs have also been used to successfully correct the genetic error underlying diseases such as sickle cell anemia.
In crop science, gene editing has been used to make Cellectis’s less sugary potato, as well as a soybean containing high levels of omega-3. The first commercial application of this technology in a plant for human consumption was approved this spring, when the US company Cibus announced an edited version of canola. The new canola plant is designed to grow well even when farmers apply particular herbicides that are used to control glyphosate-resistant weeds.
Now there is talk of using this technique to manipulate photosynthesis to produce more food. Researchers at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines have engineered rice plants to extract energy from sunlight far more efficiently than they do now.
Risks along with the promise
Techniques for genetic engineering are not perfect. Significant genetic errors have been produced by the commonly applied techniques of genome editing, including TALENs, in the past. In laboratory models, off-target events that produce unwanted mutations, sometimes with fatal results, have been described in plants, fish and human cells.
For now, there remain many uncertainties about the impact of gene-edited organisms on the environment and health. While gene editing may not introduce foreign genetic material, the technology definitely changes the composition of the product at a very fundamental level. Research is currently under way to improve these techniques, reduce the frequency of unwanted mutations and improve the safety of genome editing.
While GMO crops cover 170 million hectares of land globally, representing 11% of all arable land, they remain controversial. Golden rice, for example, promises to save one million children a year from vitamin A-related mortality. Despite biotech company Sygenta offering the license to grow golden rice free of charge for humanitarian use, its approval has been stalled in most settings.
Of course, ideally we’d be able to increase food access in ways that don’t include risk, but there are few, if any, options at this level of potential positive impact that are risk-free.
Because strict regulatory oversight is mostly lacking on GM techniques including genome editing, it’s conceivable that biotech companies may develop experimental gene-edited crops for testing in developing countries where the need for food is greater than the political will to protect the masses.
India’s experience with GMO crops makes the point. While still a multifarious issue, increased incidence of farmer suicide in India has been identified as an unforeseen consequence of the poorly regulated adoption of genetic engineering in that country. Activists contend indebtedness and crop failure were the main reasons for India’s farmer suicides – and both were inevitable outcomes of the corporate model of industrial agriculture introduced in India.
Interestingly, the move toward genome editing as the favored approach to genetic engineering may, at least in part, provide some leeway for biotech companies to avoid regulation. Genome editing using TALENs and similar techniques are either outside the jurisdiction of the US Department of Agriculture or were not envisioned when existing regulations were created.
The USDA currently relies on a product-based regulatory framework that focuses less on the technology used to develop the crop and more on the inherent risk of the final product. The emphasis is on any potential risk the new traits or attributes introduced into the plant pose to the public or the environment. But considering the reality of unanticipated, and often controversial, novel techniques of food production, it might be a better idea for the USDA to utilize process-based regulations as done by the EU, Argentina, Brazil, and several other countries. In those countries, the regulators focus on how food crops are developed, not just on the final outcome.
The world needs more nutrient-rich, environmentally friendly food production. More gene editing in food crops makes sense, but only with prudent regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of these new approaches to food availability. We don’t want to see more harm than good done as we seek to address the issue of global food security.
This piece was coauthored by Zimbabwean Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of Food Agriculture Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network.
Utibe Effiong is Resident Physician at St Mary Mercy Hospital and Research Scientist for the Exposure Research Laboratory at University of Michigan. Ramadhani Noor is Doctoral Student, Nutrition Epidemiology at Harvard University.
What has the potential to hurt global economy, food supply, and health? The answer is our oceans, and with the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference coming up, the Oceans 2015 Initiative wants the focus of the talks to be on protecting the oceans before it's too late.
Video Courtesy of The Oceans 2015 Initiative.
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Did you grow up eating Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s?
Here’s something your parents probably didn’t tell you: McDonald’s Seattle-based fishing boats are endangering Native American tribes in Western Alaska, according to a revealing report by Slate. The fishing trawl boats are used to mass capture pollock, the fish that is commonly used for California sushi rolls and McDonald’s own Filet-O-Fish.
The issue lies within mass capturing fish. McDonald’s sustainability label is monitored by the Marine Stewardship Council, who review catching methods and the environmental impact fishing has on the earth.
Alaskan tribes such as the Yup’ik and Aleut rely on halibut as a source of food and profit. But with the dwindling halibut population, many natives are beginning to fear they’ll lose their jobs. Without a diverse market for employment, Alaskans need to find opportunities for jobs elsewhere. Options for these tribal members other than fishing include: a few government jobs, employment from the education system, or jobs with a handful of private employers.
Accidental halibut captures amount to less than one percent of fishing trawl boats’ hauls. But because of the massive size of each fishing haul, the PSC found that boats accidentally harvested 6.2 million pounds of halibut out of their billion-pound catch last year.
To put that in perspective, the pollock industry allows for fishing boats to capture up to 551,000 pounds of halibut annually. But this law is not strictly enforced. For years, the corporate trawls have been allowed to capture more than the allotted amount of halibut, resulting in little to no consequences.
But what does this mean for the small Western Alaskan tribes?
According to Slate, a representative from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council stated that their goal is to “safeguard seafood supplies for all communities, including coastal communities that depend on fish for survival, for the future.” The representative continued, “Sustainable management is fundamental to ensuring more resilient livelihoods. By maintaining healthy fish stocks, the MSC is helping to protect jobs for the many who depend on the oceans for a living.” Yet they failed to discuss the issue regarding halibut.
It doesn’t look good for the fish or the Native Alaskans. Phillip Lestenkof, president of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, calls the situation in Alaska “grim,” stating “don’t ever believe this process is fair.”
More from First We Feast:
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Scientists create and discover new materials all the time. But few are so jaw-droppingly cool that they deserve to be recognized.
From mindbendingly lightweight solids used by NASA to metals that melt in your hand, here are a few of the neatest chemicals around, sourced from this Quora thread.
Aerogel: The lightest solid known to man
This remarkable gel is the world's lightest solid.
Since its invention in 1931 by American scientist Samuel Kistler, it has been used in space missions to collect dust from a comet's tail, by government agencies for developing insulated tents, and even for manufacturing clothing that protects a person from extreme heat.
NASA has nicknamed it "Blue Smoke" because it kind of looks like a hologram.
What makes this substance so cool lies in its seemingly paradoxical properties, Quora user Abhinash Tummala writes. This hard gel is mostly air and therefore extremely lightweight, not unlike a sponge. But it is also very good at repelling heat. As you can see in the image below, it can protect a flower from a strong flame.
The individual molecules that make up aerogel can also act like mini baseball gloves — they can capture fast-moving particles without damaging them. This was really useful during NASA's Stardust mission.
Scientists fashioned silica-based aerogel onto a massive tennis-racket-shaped collector that sat outside its Stardust spacecraft. Its purpose was to capture fragile particle fragments trailing behind the Comet Wild 2 without damaging them. Because aerogel is strong and relatively transparent, scientists were then able to easily find and extract the particles later for analysis.
Aerogel's precursor is structurally similar to Jell-O. The gelatin powder in Jell-O forms a flexible, liquid solution when mixed with warm water, which then cools into a stiff, tangled network that chemically looks like an unruly ball of yarn and sets into a shape. But, if you heated the set Jell-O, it would dry out and you'd be left with a lump of Jell-O powder once again.
Aerogel, on the other hand, isn't made of gelatin but is made from one of a variety of substances, depending upon its desired use. Most commonly it is manufactured from silica, the most abundant mineral in Earth's crust. Unlike the process of making Jell-O, wet aerogel is put through a cycle of pressurized cooling and heating, which makes it retain its shape after drying out.
The resulting aerogel is mostly air, making it still a solid but extremely lightweight. It is often described as feeling like Styrofoam or that flaky, green foam that fake plants are potted in.
You can make your own aerogel by following one of these recipes.
Gallium: The metal that melts at room temperature
As Quora user Xu Beixi writes, this soft, shimmering solid metal is quite unusual. At low temperatures, it exists as a brittle, hard structure. But when warmed to just above room temperature, it melts into a shiny puddle.
By far its main use has been in the manufacture of smartphones and aerospace and telecommunications industries.
While this chemical element exists in the periodic table, it doesn't occur in nature all that much. Trace amounts can be found in zinc ores and bauxite, which is the main source of aluminum. It does, however, exist on Amazon, where you can buy it for only $10.
If you splurge on some, make sure to keep it away from your iPhone — as it degrades other metals.
This is especially true if the aluminum backing on your phone is scratched, which allows the gallium to penetrate more deeply into the metal lattice. This YouTube video by TechRax demonstrates what happens if you pour melted gallium onto the scratched aluminum backing of an iPhone:
A few hours later, the back of the iPhone had completely decomposed:
Diamond Nanothreads: Possible basis for a space elevator?
This new manmade fiber composed of carbon atoms arranged into a zigzagging structure reminiscent of that of a diamond's may be the strongest, stiffest nanomaterial ever made.
Discovered in 2014, its strength appears to surpass that of carbon nanotubes, which is another ultra-strong and lightweight material.
Shockingly, it is also extremely thin. It measures only three atoms across and is much thinner than a strand of hair.
Since this structure was discovered only recently, its composition must be confirmed with higher resolution images.
Its properties and behavior also need to be understood more deeply before it can be scaled up for use commercially.
But if everything checks out, it's possible that diamond nanothreads could theoretically be strong yet light enough to build an elevator to space. Other candidates, such as steel, would eventually break under their own weight if stretched long enough.
This porcupine-like suspension of super-fine magnetic particles — usually iron — is a liquid that begins to dance and form mind-boggling structures after a magnetic field is applied to it, Quora user Richard Tabassi notes.
Each individual tiny particle in ferrofluid is coated with a surfactant, a chemical that prevents the particles from glomming together, and is suspended in a liquid — water for instance. The particles aren't like the magnets that you stick on your refrigerator. They're what scientists call "paramagnetic," meaning that when they're near a magnetic field, they turn into tiny magnets that move around and stick to other tiny magnets suspended in the field.
Ferrofluid was created in 1963 by NASA scientist Steve Pappell as a prototype for rocket fuel that would propel a spacecraft after a magnetic field was applied to it. The weird thing about ferrofluids is that they behave like both a liquid and a solid at the same time.
You can watch the full video here:
Check out the full Quora thread for more awesome things.
It's rare that you get a close-up peek at the hidden wonders of the world. Especially when it's a glance at the multi-colored, pulsating creatures that live deep in the ocean's trenches.
Sandro Bocci, an Italian film and documentary maker who specializes in experimenting with filming nature, shot a hypnotic underwater time-lapse of some strange-looking, alien-like aquatic animals in a marine aquarium in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy.
Bocci used a technique called hyperfocus to shoot the short film: Using his macro lenses and other accessories to see the creatures under super magnification.
He took three-weeks-worth of footage, and a second of video equates to 24 frames. Some clips were shot in normal video speed at high magnification. Other sequences were shot in time-lapse, with his camera taking a snap every five to 15 seconds.
Many of the incredible views in this short film are of coral.
Coral reefs are one of the most diverse and important ecosystems on the planet. They support the most species of fish and other yet-to-be-discovered species per unit area than any other part of the ocean.
Scientists have used plants and animals that come from coral reefs to develop drugs for cancer, arthritis, bacterial infections and viruses.
Zoanthid corals, seen below, come in a variety of bright colors and sizes and can be found in many different types of marine environments, such as coral reefs and the deep sea. They can be distinguished from other types of coral by their uncanny ability to incorporate sand and other nearby materials into their tissues, which contribute to their structure.
Coral reefs also buffer nearby shorelines from waves. In doing so, they prevent erosion, damage to property, and loss of life from particularly large swells an storms like hurricanes.
The feeding sequence of the coral Fungia below lasted about four hours in real life, but was compressed down to 20 seconds.
Fungia are mostly solitary coral and can grow up to 12 inches in diameter. Young Fungia attach themselves to rock, but as they age, they detach and float freely around the ocean, usually at about 80 feet below the surface of the water. They have wide, slit-like mouths that usually house a variety of parasites and sharp teeth.
This Scolimya species is sometimes called artichoke coral, button coral, donut coral, or meat coral because of its fleshy, circular shape. They are often vibrantly colored and are native to the Indo-Pacific and Western Atlantic. They are slow-growing, so they don't eat very often. But when they do, they usually feast on brine shrimp or other bits of raw seafood.
They're relatively small compared to Fungia, growing up to only about two-and-a-half inches in diameter.
Grocery shopping will never be the same — in Hawaii at least.
On July 1, the state became the first in the US to ban plastic checkout bags, after Oahu joined the rest of the Hawaiian Islands in prohibiting them.
Although California was the first state to pass a law in 2014 prohibiting retailers from handing out plastic bags to customers, the ban was put to a referendum after pro-plastic trade groups opposed the move.
The statewide ban in Hawaii requires businesses to stay away from bags made from noncompostable plastic or else pay $100 to $1,000 in penalties.
For a country that threw away 3.4 million tons of plastic bags, sacks, and wraps in 2012, as estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the ban in Hawaii is undoubtedly a major step toward sustainable packaging.
But the ban is limited in its approach: It applies only to bags made from noncompostable plastic. Retailers are free to use compostable plastic bags, recyclable paper bags, and reusable bags.
Moreover, the list of bags excluded from the ban runs long. Plastic bags used for carrying fruit, vegetables, frozen foods, coffee, meat, and fish inside the store have escaped the ban. Retailers who use plastic bags for carrying takeout food, newspapers, laundry, and prescription drugs have also been spared.
Nonetheless, the ban represents what could be the start of a game-changing trend.
Supermarkets use layers and layers of flimsy plastic bags to pack purchases. The average American takes home about 1,500 plastic bags a year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. So it's no surprise that the US figures in the list of top-20 offenders contributing to plastic debris in the oceans, according to a 2015 study. Plastic bags, in fact, are the fourth-most-commonly littered item on the coasts, as found by Ocean Conservancy.
Plastic bags may trump the ecofriendly paper bags and totes when it comes to cost and convenience, but the Earth suffers. This is because polyethylene — the most common type of plastic seen in supermarkets — doesn't wear down easily. It takes plastic bags ages to decompose, up to an estimated 500 years. A Swedish study found that chemicals used in plastic could increase the risk of diabetes.
All of those bags have helped give the Pacific Ocean a debris monument twice the size of the continental US. The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch is full of plastic, which kills sea turtles and other marine life.
If other states follow Hawaii's example, it could turn the tide against plastic in the rest of the country — and the world.
Brennan Phillips and some colleagues were recently on an expedition to Kavachi volcano, an active underwater volcano near the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. But they weren't prepared for what they saw deep inside the volcanic crater:
Sharks!Hammerheads and silky sharks, to be specific, contentedly swimming around despite the sizzling water temperatures and biting acidity.
Volcanic vents such as these can release fluids above 800 degrees Fahrenheit and have a similar acidity to vinegar, according to the Marine Education Society of Australasia.
"The idea of there being large animals like sharks hanging out and living inside the caldera of the volcano conflicts with what we know about Kavachi, which is that it erupts," Phillips, a biological oceanography Ph.D. student at the University of Rhode Island, says in a YouTube video.
This brings up some perplexing questions about what the animals do if the volcano decides to wake up:
"Do they leave?" Phillips asks. "Do they have some sign that it's about to erupt? Do they blow up sky-high in little bits?"
The volcano wasn't erupting when Phillips' team arrived, meaning it was safe to drop an 80-pound camera into the water to take a look around. After about an hour of recording, the team fished the camera out and watched the video.
First, the video showed some jellyfish, snappers, and small fish. Then, a hammerhead swam into view, and the scientists erupted in cheers. They also saw a cool-looking stingray.Why the sharks were hanging out inside an active volcano is a mystery, but one Phillips hopes to solve.
Check out the full video here:
Every summer for the past eight years, huge algae blooms have taken over the beaches near Qingdao, a city in the Shandong province of China.
The bright green stuff has blanketed at least 13,500 square miles of ocean this summer, according to the South China Morning Post.
And this isn't the first time it's happened. In 2013, the blooms got as big as the state of Connecticut! Check out this year's algae infestation.
The algae blooms every year on the beaches in Qingdao, on China's northeast coast between Beijing and Shanghai. The first blooms appeared in 2007 after seaweed farmers working south of Qingdao switched up how they clean off their rafts.
Farmers use the rafts to make nori, a type of edible seaweed that's popular in Japan. When the rafts are cleaned off in the spring, along comes the algae, which thrives off the leftover seaweed nutrients and the warm conditions in the Yellow Sea.
Researchers think the reason for the algae growth in Qingdao is that seaweed farmers started cleaning their rafts farther offshore. This gave the algae the chance to spread out and make its way to the shore up near the city.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
People say that wolf reintroduction saved Yellowstone.
The story starts in the early-20th century when people killed the last of Yellowstone's wolves. After the wolves disappeared, people noticed that proliferating elk were changing the landscape, as their relentless grazing turned once-lush areas barren.
When biologists reintroduced wolves to the park in 1995, the initial effect was promising. Although elk populations did not decline as much as expected, the plants they ate started to regrow. Ecologists theorized that elk altered their behavior when wolves were around and consequently spent less time grazing.
The wolves quickly became the poster child for trophic cascades, how bringing back top predators can restore out-of-whack ecosystems. In recent years, however, ecologists have realized that bringing back wolves hasn't been enough to restore plant communities in Yellowstone.
"Predators can be important," Oswald Schmitz, an ecologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, told Nature, "but they aren't a panacea."
Thus ecologists have started looking closer at the role beavers play in the ecosystem.
Beavers, too, suffered from the initial decline of wolves and rise of elk, as elk out-competed beavers for food — particularly willow and aspen trees — leading to the near-elimination of beavers and their dams from the park.
As beaver dams disappeared, so did the wetlands and streams they supported — and these are the areas that suffer most today.
Wolf reintroduction has helped beaver populations somewhat: Today, people again spot beavers along the larger rivers. Unfortunately, those rivers are too big for beavers to dam, and beavers remain absent from the smaller waterways that they can dam. Meanwhile, the plant communities along those streams remain damaged.
"It's problematic because the willows and beavers have a mutualistic relationship: Beavers eat and cut them down to build their dams, and the dams raise the water tables and bring water up so it's more available for plants," Kristin Marshall, an ecologist at the University of Washington who published her research on the Yellowstone beavers in the the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, told Business Insider.
"Without beaver dams creating willow-friendly environments," Emma Marris, author of the book "Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World,"told Popular Science, "the willows can't recover."
Not only will the willows not recover, but the marshy habitats around them won't recover either. That includes not only the trees and plants but also the birds, amphibians, and any other creature that needs wetland to survive.
Some places might be too far gone for anything, even the beaver, to help.
"This has changed to a site that can't go back," Doug Smith, the head of Yellowstone's wolf-reintroduction program and the park's main beaver biologist, told High Country News about Yellowstone's Elk Creek, "There's no water."
But it's not too late to give up hope on the beavers. Wolves returned 20 years ago and much of their effect is only being seen now, so this type of recovery takes a long time. The beavers could still make a comeback and finish restoring Yellowstone.
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In what seems like the plot to disaster movie, the quiet town of Centralia, Pennsylvania has endured a burning problem since 1962: It's been on fire, literally, for the past 53 years.
And how this fire started still remains a mystery. But chemistry can help explain why it's still going.
The problem runs deep
Centralia, Pennsylvania sits atop a few of the biggest coal deposits in the world. This was fortuitous for the sleepy town at the time because coal was — and still is — one of the main sources of energy and electricity, having fueled the Industrial Revolution.
In the 1800s, miners in Centralia blasted tunnels underground to harvest the coal, but by the mid-1900s, many of the mines wsere abandoned.
No one knows exactly how the Centralia fire started, but the strongest theory is that burning trash from a nearby landfill accidentally ignited coal below an old entrance to the mine. The fire then spread through the mines
Feeding the flames
Coal is formed over millions of years when swamps and bogs full of organic matter like trees, roots, and bacteria are buried under sand, mud, and other natural materials. The pressure on the organic matter increases as layers of earth above it grow over time, and all of the water and other substances from the buried plants and trees get squeezed out, forming coal that ends up being mostly carbon — about 40-90% carbon by weight.
When the carbon inside coal mixes with oxygen, it ignites. It can even begin spontaneously without a flame nearby.
Those tunnels that the miners dug in the 1800s fed the flames by siphoning in oxygen from the surface. Then, as more coal burned, the flames bit deeper and deeper into the surrounding region — a whopping 300-feet-deep— in a vicious, fiery cycle that wouldn't stop.
Coal burns slow and steady, which means that it takes a very long time to burn out. This is unlike timber in a forest or a camp fire, which smolders quickly.
As long as there's enough heat, fuel, and oxygen to keep it going, the fire won't burn out. Because coal contains a natural source of fuel — carbon — it can keep burning for as long as there's enough heat and oxygen to keep it going. This is why coal mine fires can blaze for centuries.
Today, the Centralia fire covers six square miles and spreads 75 feet per year. Shockingly, it could burn for another 250 years.
The 1,000 residents that lived in Centralia at the time thought the fire was a silly inconvenience at first. But that changed when sulfurous fumes and carbon monoxide began seeping out of the mine, nearly suffocating them in their homes. The underground fire also fractured the ground, making sinkholes pop up all over the place. A 12-year-old was nearly consumed by one in 1981.
The town has tried in vain to snuff out the flames over the years. They drilled holes into the mine and plugged them up with wet sand to choke off the air supply, but it didn't work. They stopped trying to put it out in the 1980s and haven't made another attempt since.
The state government condemned Centralia in 1992 and almost all of its residents left. Today, just about a dozen people live there. The town has been taken over by graffiti artists.
While a long-burning, underground fire may seem like a freak occurrence, they are actually fairly common. Today, mine fires are burning in New Zealand, Wyoming, India, China, and Turkmenistan.
Fires like this also exist naturally too, with a few thousand burning around the world.
Last month, turtle experts thought there were fewer than 3,000 Philippine forest turtles left in the world. They were shocked when they found 3,800 more — stacked on top of each other in a cement tank in a Chinese-owned Philippine warehouse.
The thousands of turtles had no visible access to water, and a myriad of injuries and illnesses. Rick Hudson, president of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), said the discovery was "shocking" and "a nightmare" in an email to supporters.
"Injuries were obvious," he wrote. "Turtles were dying. There was chaos."
Of the 3,800 turtles, nearly 3,000 were released. The other thousand were held back for treatment for broken shells, skin problems, bone infections, dehydration and a number of other medical problems resulting from captivity.
The rescued turtles have been helped by a rush of support from turtle groups around the world, TSA among them. But these same groups worry about the bigger questions raised by this discovery, both about the already-threatened wild populations and Asia's increasing appetite for turtles.
The Philippine forest turtle was something of a myth for much of the twentieth century, its existence known from a meager four specimens that had been found over the decades. But it was rediscovered in 2004, when a small population was found living in Palawan, an island province of the Philippines.
Unfortunately, while the species' reemergence was a boon to conservationists, it was also an invitation to poachers. "When that species was rediscovered it set off a collecting frenzy," Hudson told The Dodo, adding that the turtles can fetch a huge price on the international market due to their rarity.
These rescued turtles, which were all wild-caught, had been snatched from their forest homes by an organized syndicate of poachers. "Due to the fact that some of them were so emaciated and in such bad shape, we suspect that some of them were there for up to six months," Hudson said, adding that they were headed for turtle farms in China.
"The Chinese are trying to farm any species of turtle they can get their hands on," he said, explaining that growing demand means turtles from all over the world are being sent to China to be bred for the exotic pet trade or for meat. The Philippine forest turtles were probably going to be bred for collectors since they're simply too valuable to kill for meat.
While a few hundred turtles died in the days after the rescue, the death toll would have been more significant if the Philippine forest turtles had been shipped off. They only thrive in their natural home — a far cry from the cramped and stressful conditions of turtle farms.
"This species does very poorly in captivity under the best of conditions," Hudson explained. A big problem is that they're solitary and, quite simply, "they don't want to be with another turtle," which can lead to fighting and general stress.
And in a species that's so rare, the death of even a few is significant — which is why Hudson described the discovery as "a nightmare" in his email.
The Philippine forest turtles aren't alone. Millions of turtles die each year to meet Chinese demand, with countries like Vietnam — and the US — having depleted native populations to send them abroad. And 75 percent of Asia's freshwater turtle and tortoise species are threatened, according to National Geographic.
But those are bigger questions, and for the time being everyone's focused on treating the rescued turtles who need help after their brutal treatment. "Some of these have been handled very roughly," Hudson said. "They've been tossed around, they have cracked shells."
Volunteers worked with the Palawan Wildlife Rescue Center to create a turtle habitat, repurposing old crocodile enclosures into turtle-friendly havens complete with shade, big ponds and fresh food.
And the weeks of hard work seem to have paid off. Of the original thousand or so held back for treatment, only 246 remained in intensive care as of earlier this week. But while those numbers are small compared to the original intake, every last individual is crucially important.
"It's still ranked as critically endangered," Hudson said of the species. "So we have to take precautions to save as many as we can."
If you'd like to help protect these turtles and others like them, you can donate to the Turtle Survival Alliance here.
The San Juan Islands, in between the Washington State coastline and Vancouver Island, are some of the best places to see the renowned natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Bald eagles and blue herons hunt fish in the surrounding waters. Otters swim and play along the shores. Most famously, majestic pods of orca whales feast on salmon or — in the case of far-journeying transient orcas — harbor seals.
It was on an orca-watching sea-kayaking trip there that I first heard about one of the most difficult issues that climate and environmental scientists face: the psychological devastation that comes with observing, day-after-day, the growing problems facing the planet.
A senior researcher and whale expert used to lead these trips, one of the young scientists guiding us explained, but he'd grown so depressed by contemplating the future of this beautiful area that he'd basically stopped interacting with the public.
This is a common problem for environmental scientists, our guide said.
A recent Esquire feature, appropriately titled "When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job," takes a deep look at the psychological struggles of people who study something that they quite literally believe could cause incredible human suffering, transforming life as we know it.
Author John Richardson asks: "How does being the one to look at the grim facts of climate change most intimately, day in and day out, affect a person? ... How are they being affected by the burden of their chosen work in the face of changes to the earth that could render it a different planet?"
Richardson focuses on climatologist Jason Box, an Arctic-focused researcher who now works for the Danish government. Box stirred up a storm of controversy in 2014 with a tweet that went viral, speculating that if warming Arctic waters were to start to release trapped methane (which would then cause further warming), "we're f'd."
Box relocated to Denmark with his family not just for work. It's also a place where his young daughter will be somewhat protected from the human suffering and security risks that come with droughts, floods, rising waters, and higher food costs.
Contemplating the state of the world to come — and trying to remain solution-oriented, since, as NASA's Gavin Schmidt tells Richardson, running around saying "we're f----d ... doesn't incentivize anybody to do anything"— is hard enough. Added pressure from hostile groups makes it worse.
As Richardson writes:
For more than thirty years, climate scientists have been living a surreal existence. A vast and ever-growing body of research shows that warming is tracking the rise of greenhouse gases exactly as their models predicted ... Human-induced climate change is real [and] already affecting "agriculture, water, human health, energy, transportation, forests, and ecosystems." But that's not the worst of it. ... The one hundred million people in Bangladesh will need another place to live and coastal cities globally will be forced to relocate, a task complicated by economic crisis and famine ... a billion people will suffer famine within twenty or thirty years.
We know all this — but little changes. Richardson continues:
Carbon emissions continue to rise at a steady rate, and for their pains the scientists themselves — the cruelest blow of all — have been the targets of an unrelenting and well-organized attack that includes death threats, summonses from a hostile Congress, attempts to get them fired, legal harassment, and intrusive discovery demands so severe they had to start their own legal-defense fund, all amplified by a relentless propaganda campaign nakedly financed by the fossil-fuel companies.
Some read about what's happening as more and more carbon is released from our constant burning of fossil fuels and their eyes glaze over; they can't think about it. Others go straight to comment sections to post misinformation they've been fed.
And yet, for the scientists studying climate, getting people to pay attention, to listen, and to act is the only thing that could potentially make things better. Despite the hostility, they have to keep doing their work.
Jeffrey Kiehl, a scientist who was so troubled by the ways people's brains resist information on climate that he took time away from his research to study psychology, told Richardson that the "fear of economic loss [that will accompany climate change] creates such numbing anxiety ... we literally cannot imagine making the necessary changes."
Meteorologist Eric Holthaus of Slate has also written about the "existential dread" that comes with studying the environment. He gave up flying and wrote about considering a vasectomy, contemplating the perspective that bringing more people into the world can only make things worse. He changed his mind, deciding that — even though the future is uncertain — a child was a reason to work towards and hope for a better world. "It's impossible to be hopeless with a newborn,"he writes.
Even though we're already at the point where "bad things are going to happen," as Schmidt told Richardson, many researchers think that we can still act now and prevent some of the worst effects of climate change.
"I would emphasize that it isn’t too late to act, despite the sense one might get from the [Esquire] article," Michael Mann tells Holthaus. Mann is the Penn State meteorologist who first published the "hockey stick" graph that showed the intense upward trend of warming on Earth — something that he's received death threats for ever since. "Our only obstacle at present is willpower.”
While most scientists agree that a certain amount of warming is guaranteed based on the amount of carbon we've already released (at least 2 degrees centigrade, most likely at least 4 degrees according to Shell oil), there's always a choice about how we proceed from here. With hope, we can perhaps make better decisions, moving away from fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
"Crawling under a rock isn't an option," Box tells Esquire. "So becoming overcome with PTSD-like symptoms is useless."
The threat of climate change needs to be assessed in the same comprehensive way as nuclear weapons proliferation, according to a UK foreign minister.
Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Commonwealth and Foreign Office, said the indirect impacts of global warming, such as deteriorating international security, could be far greater than the direct effects, such as flooding.
She issued the warning in a foreword to a new report on the risks of climate change led by the UK’s climate change envoy, Prof Sir David King.
The report, commissioned by the Foreign Office, and written by experts from the UK, US, China and India, is stark in its assessment of the wide-ranging dangers posed by unchecked global warming, including:
The world’s nations are preparing for a crunch UN summit in Paris in December, at which they must agree a deal to combat climate change.
Monday’s report states that existing plans to curb carbon emissions would heighten the chances of the climate passing tipping points “beyond which the inconvenient may become intolerable”. In 2004, King, then the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned that climate change is a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.
“Assessing the risk around [nuclear weapon proliferation] depends on understanding inter-dependent elements, including: what the science tells us is possible; what our political analysis tells us a country may intend; and what the systemic factors are, such as regional power dynamics,” said Anelay. “The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment.”
The report sets out the direct risks of climate change. “Humans have limited tolerance for heat stress,” it states. “In the current climate, safe climatic conditions for work are already exceeded frequently for short periods in hot countries, and heatwaves already cause fatalities. In future, climatic conditions could exceed potentially lethal limits of heat stress even for individuals resting in the shade.”
It notes that “the number of people exposed to extreme water shortage is projected to double, globally, by mid century due to population growth alone. Climate change could increase the risk in some regions.”
In the worst case, what is today a once-in-30-year flood could happen every three years in the highly populated river basins of the Yellow, Ganges and Indus rivers, the report said. Without dramatic cuts to carbon emissions, extreme drought affecting farmland could double around the world, with impacts in southern Africa, the US and south Asia.
Areas affected by the knock-on or systemic risks of global warming include global security with extreme droughts and competition for farmland causing conflicts. “Migration from some regions may become more a necessity than a choice, and could take place on a historically unprecedented scale,” the report says. “It seems likely that the capacity of the international community for humanitarian assistance would be overwhelmed.”
“The risks of state failure could rise significantly, affecting many countries simultaneously, and even threatening those that are currently considered developed and stable,” says the report. “The expansion of ungoverned territories would in turn increase the risks of terrorism.”
The report also assesses the systemic risk to global food supply, saying that rising extreme weather events could mean shocks to global food prices previously expected once a century could come every 30 years. “A plausible worst-case scenario could produce unprecedented price spikes on the global market, with a trebling of the prices of the worst-affected grains,” the report concludes.
The greatest risks are tipping points, the report finds, where the climate shifts rapidly into a new, dangerous phase state. But the report also states that political leadership, technology and investment patterns can also change abruptly too.
The report concludes: “The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realised, but so is our capacity to confront them. An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism.”
To the north of California's famous San Andreas fault is a less known, but possibly more deadly, fault line. The Cascadia subduction zone runs some 700 miles from northern California to Vancouver.
In a deeply reported article for The New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz tells the tale of how this fault lies dormant for periods of 243 years, on average, before unleashing monstrous tremors. The Pacific Northwest is 72 years overdue for the next quake, which is expected to be between 8.0 and 9.2 in magnitude.
At the upper end of that scale, Schulz notes, we would experience "the worst natural disaster in the history of North America." (The major 2011 earthquake in Japan was a 9.0, killing more than 15,000 people.)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) already has an emergency response plan for when this earthquake hits. Parts of FEMA's quake expectations are truly terrifying. As Schulz writes:
FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million.
These projections are based on a scenario that has the earthquake striking at 9:41 a.m. February 6. (The agency isn't trying to predict the future or saying that the earthquake will definitely occur then, they just need a date to plan around.) The toll would be far higher on a warm day, when more people — often huge crowds of people — are at the beach or in the water.
When the quake does occur, its severe effects and the impacts of the following tsunami ("It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land") will be felt all the way from Canada to Sacramento, in densely populated cities like Seattle and Portland.
What's more, the Pacific Northwest is not earthquake ready. Buildings aren't retrofitted properly and there aren't many effective emergency warning systems or escape plans in place.
The aftermath will be devastating. Schulz writes:
By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA's Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, "Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast."
Business Insider's science team is looking for a paid editorial intern to join us this Fall.
Interns at Business Insider aren't sent on coffee runs, or forced to spend their days filing or making copies.
Our interns are an integral part of our team. Many of our current writers and editors started as interns. On the science team, three of our current reporters have worked at BI as interns.
BI Interns spend their time doing meaningful work: researching, writing, pitching, and producing features — even breaking news if the timing's right. We want people who can find their own stories, pitch them, and write quickly, cleanly, and intelligently. We will have you producing as much as you possibly can in no time.
Our style is smart, conversational, exciting and geared toward non-scientists. Having an attention to detail and being efficient in a quick-turnaround environment are both skills required for this job. We also prize agility in and enthusiasm for tackling wildly different topics
Our aim is to help readers appreciate, understand, and use the innovations that surround us while still staying optimistic and solutions-oriented when possible. Though we still love a good debunking.
This position is at our Flatiron headquarters in New York City. Internships run for 6 months, and interns are encouraged to work up to 40 hours a week.
Consider applying if:
After-hours duties may also include helping retain our Science Friday trivia champion title over rival publications.
Apply here with a resume, clips, and a cover letter telling us what excites you about science reporting.
Wouldn’t it be great if scientists could make their minds up? One minute they’re telling us our planet is warming up due to human activity and we run the risk of potentially devastating environmental change. Next, they’re warning that the Earth is heading for a mini ice age in the next 15 years.
The latter headline has its roots in a recent press release from the UK’s National Astronomy Meeting that reported on a study suggesting the sun is heading towards a period of very low output.
Fluctuations in solar activity are not a new discovery. The 11-year variation in the number of dark sunspots on the solar surface was discovered more than 150 years ago. We now understand that these spots are symptoms of increased magnetic activity and occur during periods when explosive outbursts of energy and material such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections are more frequent.
The scientists behind the new research have modelled the rhythmic variations in solar activity over recent decades and predict that a deep low is due between 2030 and 2040. Specifically, the press release suggests that this dip in activity could mark a return to quiet solar conditions not seen for more than 350 years.
How is this astronomy story related to an impending ice age? The period of low solar activity in the 17th century, known as the Maunder minimum, lasted about 70 years and roughly coincided with the “Little Ice Age”, a era characterised by an abnormally high number of harsh winters across the UK and Europe. As almost all newspaper stories have reported, during several particularly cold winters the Thames froze, enabling frost fairs to be held on the ice.
Given the apparently strong link between low solar activity and the Little Ice Age reported in the press, it’s understandable that the prospect of a return to Maunder minimum conditions has stimulated a lot of interest.
Should we be worried?
If this link between variations in solar activity and changes in the Earth’s climate seems obvious, that’s because it is. When the amount of energy emitted by the sun changes, it has an affect on our climate.
But the real issue is just how strong this influence is compared to other factors. The total solar irradiance, a measure of the power produced by the sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation, varies by only about 0.1% over the course of the 11-year solar cycle. Climate scientists have understood this effect for some time and it is already built into the computer models that are used to try and forecast our climate.
But there are still some uncertainties. Changes in the ultraviolet portion of the Sun’s output over a solar cycle can be much greater and can deposit energy in the stratosphere – at altitudes above 10km. How this energy influences our weather and climate in the lower atmosphere is still not clear, but there is growing evidence that during periods of low solar activity, atmospheric “blocking” events are more prevalent.
These blocking episodes comprise extensive and almost stationary anti-cyclones in the eastern Atlantic that can last for several weeks, hindering the flow of the jet stream and leading to colder winters in the UK and Europe.
The good news is that if the sun is heading towards Maunder minimum conditions, the likelihood of which varies greatly in different studies, then a new ice age is not inevitable. During the Little Ice Age, the atmospheric blocking effect probably played a role, but so did increased global volcanic activity that ejected gas and ash in the atmosphere, reflecting solar radiation back into space.
So we have to be careful associating the Maunder minimum with the Little Ice Age. A look at the data shows that the Little Ice Age began a long time (certainly more than a century) before the start of the Maunder minimum – and continued long after it ended. In any case, the Little Ice Age wasn’t really an ice age. Although cold winters in Europe were unusually common, it doesn’t seem to have been a global phenomenon. Research suggests it was a regional phenomenon and that the colder winters in Europe would have been accompanied by warmer ones elsewhere.
So what about global climate change? If solar activity is falling, and that has a cooling influence over the UK and Europe, isn’t that a good thing?
Unfortunately not. The overwhelming consensus among the world’s climate scientists is that the influence of solar variability on the climate is dwarfed by the impact of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Most calculations suggest that a new “grand solar minimum” in activity would have a cooling effect that would temporarily offset just a few year’s worth of the warming due to the emission of carbon dioxide by humans.
We may well be heading towards a period of low solar activity, but a new mini ice age seems very unlikely at this point.
On an airplane, adding on a minute to your flight can mean the difference between getting stuck behind someone who has to hoist a heavy bag into the overhead storage compartment, or a window rather than an aisle seat.
But multiply that minute by 100,000 flights, and you get one seriously bogged down global commercial flight system.
This is what could happen every year for the forseeable future — but instead of a few stingy passengers, all of us will be to blame.
Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution set out to determine how natural year-to-year climate cycles influenced the airline industry.
Along the way, however, they found something far more disturbing: The longer-term climate change caused by the greenhouse gasses we emit also had an effect on the industry — and it significantly changed wind patterns.
So much so that it added a whopping 133 hours to all the flights they looked at combined. Every year.
How climate change influences wind
Along with hotter, drier summers and cooler, wetter winters, climate change will also effect wind speeds around the planet, but while scientists are aware that things are set to change, they aren't quite sure about the details just yet. Some studies, for example, have found winds will speed up while other studies have found they'd slow down. And the changes would vary based on location.
All these shifts would, in turn, give planes a harder time, causing them to spend more time in the air, which also means they'd likely use more fuel. For the most part, during round-trip flights, that change in air speed balances out, with a slower arrival catching a break on the return. But not completely.
The researchers found that the wind pushback added up to $1.4 million in yearly fuel costs, not to mention an additional estimated 4.6 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per year spent on those longer flights.
The Nature Climate Change study looked only at a small portion of commercial flights, courtesy of data from the US DOT: All the ones that went from San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles to Honolulu between 1995 and 2013.
Kristopher Karnauskas, lead author of the study, told Business Insider that the reason his team chose to look at these routes first was because flights over the Pacific Ocean tended to be clear of pesky interference from mountain ranges or too many other criss-crossing flight routes.
On a global scale
Around the world, there are more than 50,000 flight routes, and each of them will be differently affected by the global climate shifts our planet will experience in the coming decades. In other words, we can't generalize too much from the three flight routes studied in this paper to global flight patterns.
"I’m not saying that climate change is going to cause all flights to be one minute longer," Karnauskas said. ”Some will be longer, some will be shorter."
But overall, since the flights don't balance out, he thinks the overall impact will mean planes consume more fuel and put more CO2 into the environment.
Implications for the airline industry
Wind changes aren’t the only way to add to a plane's total CO2 emissions, of course — added weight makes a big difference too. (For perspective, the weight of one tea bag on a plane adds 1 kilogram of CO2 emissions.)
Karnauskas said his team is hoping to expand his climate model projections to a more global sample size. The only roadblock there is the difficulty to compile commercial flight data from other countries.
Brown lawns, fallow fields and higher water bills are all the predictable outcomes of the California drought.
The Golden State is in the midst of its driest period on record. But all that warm, dry weather affects more than just lake levels and snowpack— it has some downright weird effects, too.
From pipe-eating poop to more roadkill, here are some of the strangest results of the California drought.
1. Pipe-eating poop
As water becomes scarce in California, more and more people are using low-flow toilets and adhering to the conservationist's adage, "If it's yellow, let it mellow," and are only flushing down if it's brown.
That may be good for water conservation, but it's bad news for sewage systems, at least in San Francisco. The high-tech city has some antique sewage pipes that were installed during the Gold Rush. People are still pooping as much, so each flush contains more waste with less water to flush it through the system.
The waste that is broken down creates hydrogen sulfide, which eats through the concrete in the pipes, San Francisco's local CBS affiliate reported. And that means a higher potential for sewage leaks in the system.
2. More roadkill
Animals may be even more susceptible to the drought's effects than are humans. Since the drought means less greenery and animal food, animals must take bigger risks to reach food and water sources — even when that means crossing dangerous roads and highways.
As a result, roadkill incidence may be increasing in the Golden State, according to an April report from the University of California, Davis. Of course, if the drought continues for long enough, overall wildlife populations could plummet, meaning there would be fewer animals to become roadkill in the first place, the report authors speculated.
3. Send in the snakes
The parched conditions may also lead to more close encounters of the slithery kind. People have been finding more rattlesnakes in their houses in Northern California. With fewer water sources away from homes, rodents are likelier to venture into peoples' homes. Rattlesnakes then follow, lured by their main prey, according to CBS News. Last summer, a Sacramento man who runs a rattlesnake-removal business took 72 of the deadly reptiles from people's houses in one week.
4. Kitten bonanza!
Some of the side effects of the drought are downright adorable. The drought has meant more warm days, and apparently cats react to warm weather just as people on a Hawaii vacation might — by getting busy. The warm, dry air may be causing more cats to mate and produce kittens. Animal shelters in Oakland, California, have reported 30 percent more kittens this season than usual, and the shelters are now struggling to place the felines in loving homes, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Of course, pinning the blame for all the fluffy products of feline love on the drought is a tough call. Cats in the wild don't typically respond to the stressful conditions of a drought by being friskier than usual, one biologist told the chronicle. Still, domestic cats may not be under the same environmental pressures, he said.
5. Pest growth
While drought may be bad for many animals, pests such as scorpions and spiders reproduce like crazy in the dry, warm conditions, Jim Fredericks, an entomologist and wildlife ecology expert with the National Pest Management Association, told CNN. Once the mercury rises too high, the legion of arachnids makes its way indoors to people's garages and homes to escape the heat. Some of the least welcome house guests could include brown recluse and black widow spiders, according to Mother Jones.
6. End is near?
Thankfully, meteorologists are predicting that a monster El Niño weather pattern will hit California and last at least until fall. The warm, wet weather of the El Niño could put a dent in the state's years'-long water deficit. But though drenching winter storms will be good news for the state's snowpack, reservoirs and crops, they could also come with some unpleasant side effects. The parched hillsides could be less able to absorb water, leading to more flooding and runoff, according to USA Today.
NOW WATCH: A devastating look at the California drought
Grand solutions to the world's ever-sharpening threat of climate change are usually met with a mix of skepticism and fear.
Geoengineering — the practice of intervening with Earth's natural systems to stop global warming —is especially thought to be messing with fire.
Take a dramatic action like spraying sulfate aerosols (water vapor and sulfur) into the atmosphere, increasing Earth's ability to reflect sunlight back into space, and we might be able to cool down the Earth. But global warming could go into overdrive if we ever stop that cooling process.
Reversing climate change doesn't necessarily need to come with such heavy baggage.
From more than 10,000 entrants, 11 finalists were chosen.
Due to a mix of obstacles, none of the proposed solutions ultimately earned the $25 million prize, awarded to a solution that is scientifically sound, low-impact, viable outside of a lab, scalable, and economically feasible. But Branson remains hopeful.
"We believe with more research a solution is possible," Branson wrote in 2014.
Here are some of the more promising (but still failed) entrants to keep an eye on:
One of the most popular routes that companies are taking to clean up the atmosphere is a straightforward one: removing carbon dioxide directly.
Sweden's Climeworks, Canada's Carbon Engineering, and the US's Coaway and Global Thermostat all made the finals of the VEC with their techniques for taking large batches of air and isolating the carbon dioxide inside. The extracted CO2 can then be repurposed into plastic or fuels or compressed for other applications.
Each company uses giant fans or filters to swallow up the surrounding air. Once inside the closed-loop system, CO2 molecules are drawn out and held in separate reservoirs for later use. Meanwhile, the CO2-free air is recycled back into the environment.
Plants do this already, but the costs of land and maintenance make artificial air capture the better option. The main challenge, as many see it, is getting the infrastructure in place and actually getting some use out of the leftover CO2 once the process ends.
While effective in theory, those steps take considerable amounts of time — possibly on the order of decades.
Normal weathering happens when the many forces of nature break down rocks on the earth's surface. Certain rocks, such as olivine and serpentine, have the interesting property of essentially reabsorbing CO2 when they weather.
Smartstones, a VEC finalist from the Netherlands, wants to mill olivine and spread it around in places where it will get weathered naturally.
"One should follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid), and leave the weathering to nature," Smartstones states on its website. "Instead, many researchers try to develop techniques to speed up the carbonation. This costs extra energy and money, by which mineral carbonation is pricing itself out of the market."
Time, however, is still a point of contention. One 2009 study found olivine grains would need between 700 and 2,100 years to fully sequester CO2 at a steady rate. Meanwhile, other research says that figure is highly flawed and "grossly understates the uptake rate in natural settings."
To get biochar, wood and feedstock gets burned at nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, with limited oxygen involved. This carbonizes the biomass through a process called pyrolysis. In its new state, the biochar has the distinct property of preventing carbon from reentering the atmosphere when used in soils. It can also provide energy to plants and increase crop yield.
Humans currently produce about 37 gigatons (that's 37 billion tons) of CO2 a year. According to one 2010 study, biochar could help reduce the human-caused emissions by up to 12%. Over a century, the scientists claim, that could yield a 130-gigaton drop "without endangering food security, habitat, or soil conservation."
Like all other proposals to reverse climate change, biochar relies on a concerted effort to succeed. The plan might be the brainchild of a lone few, but to offset the massive effects of industrialization, it must be embraced by all.