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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    women laughing

    More than half of Americans are single, according to a 2014 report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a figure that's risen 13% since 1976.

    And being single might have some surprising benefits. Dr. Bella DePaulo, a social scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, went through more than 800 studies of single and married people and found that singles tended to be more self-reliant and -motivated than people in a relationship.

    The single folks were also more likely to develop and grow as individuals, judging by how many goals they set for themselves and how much they'd learned about their personalities.

    DePaulo's research was presented at the American Psychological Association's 124th Annual Convention. On top of all that, singles showed an increased value of connections with parents, siblings, friends, and coworkers.

    "When people marry, they become more insular," said DePaulo in a press release.

    One benefit DePaulo noted behind being self-sufficient is happier emotions. She found that people who relied on themselves more were less likely to experience times of negative emotions. Interestingly enough, the more married people relied on themselves instead of their partners, the more likely they were to experience negative emotions.

    Although DePaulo researches the benefits of a single lifestyle, she doesn't want married people to think that they're losing out, either. One of the possible benefits of marriage, for example, might include greater financial stability.

    "More than ever, Americans can pursue the ways of living that work best for them. There is no blueprint for the good life," DePaulo added.

    SEE ALSO: 8 science-backed ways to be more attractive

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    NOW WATCH: Research reveals why women cheat, but it's not why you think

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    drinking tap water on flight

    Your drinking water may contain more of a toxin than you'd think.

    A new study out Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters looked at a national database that monitors chemical levels in drinking water and found that 6 million people were being exposed to levels of a certain chemical that exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency considers healthy.

    The chemicals, known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, are synthetic and resistant to water and oil, which is why they're used in things like pizza boxes and firefighting foam. They're built to withstand the environment.

    But PFASs also accumulate in people and animals and have been observationally linked to an increased risk of health problems including cancer. And they can't be easily avoided, like with a water filter, for example.

    The kind of PFASs that are considered the most harmful are rarely used in the US, but other countries like China still use them, and that could have effects elsewhere, experts say.

    "What is emitted from China could eventually land at very long distance away, such as here," Xindi Hu, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, told Business Insider. "I want people to be aware that this is not a single country's problem, this a global problem, and different countries need to work together if they want to tackle it."

    Here are the areas that were monitored, with everything above the 70 ng/L falling above what's considered a healthy lifetime exposure:

    Screen Shot 2016 08 09 at 1.06.12 PM

    Hu said her next step is to build a model that can better identify which areas have PFAS contamination so that the EPA can better monitor the areas that are the highest priority, like those near manufacturing plants.

    SEE ALSO: You're storing fruits and veggies all wrong — here’s where you should keep them instead

    DON'T MISS: Scientists just made a discovery that could change how we treat diseases that affect 20 million people

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    NOW WATCH: 5 scientifically verified ways to appear more attractive

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    denali wolf

    The wolf pack that taught scientists how wolf packs work may be dead, scientists worry.

    Last they knew, the East Fork pack in Alaska's Denali National Park was down to a male, a female, and two pups. But as we first saw reported by The Guardian, a park ecologist told the media that the male was found dead and there's no sign of the rest of the pack at their den.

    The last male was killed by hunters. He was the latest in a troubling yearlong trend of about 75% of East Fork wolf deaths being due to hunting and trapping. And it's not just wolves: as many as one in four mammal species are threatened, due largely to hunting and habitat loss.

    Wolves in Alaska are protected on park land itself, but not beyond its borders — borders the wolves can't see.

    Overall, biologists think Denali is down to about 50 wolves in a dozen packs. And in the past two years, the park has been actively working to try to increase the frequency of wolf sightings by visitors.

    The East Fork pack were wolf celebrities, often greeting visitors entering the park. Sean McGuire at Alaskans for Wildlife told a local radio station they were "probably the most viewed wolf pack in the world's history."

    Offshoot packs formed by East Fork wolves are still roaming Denali. That means ecologists can still track this lineage of wolves — just not in the same community.

    But for scientists, having almost 80 years of observations of the same pack was priceless. The first ecologist to study the pack was Adolph Murie in the 1930s.

    Murie just watched the wolves, but modern scientists have been using a higher-tech methods like genetic sequencing and radio collars to better understand how the wolves are doing and how their packs are changing.

    Denali National Park

    The loss of the East Fork pack will make it harder for scientists to compare current wolf knowledge with historical data. That means tracing the effects of a warming climate and other changes is trickier.

    And each pack is its own family unit with different traits, so which one you're studying can change the behaviors you see.

    That said, East Fork isn't the only pack to have been intensively studied. Lake Superior's Isle Royale pack and the moose the wolves hunt have been watched since the 1950s— although this pack too is likely either going or gone. Yellowstone's wolves have two decades of studies in the books, after they were brought back to the park in the 1990s.

    SEE ALSO: Lionfish have invaded the Mediterranean — here’s why scientists are worried

    SEE ALSO: Scientists think 'little plant and animal highways' could help wildlife escape climate change

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This is exactly what you should do if a bear attacks you

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    The people of the Faroe Islands, 18 mountainous islands off the coast of Northern Europe, have a longstanding tradition that has drawn ire from animal advocates: From as early as 1584, the Faroese have been killing pilot whales by the hundreds.

    And this whaling becomes even more prevalent in the summertime.

    In the past few weeks, photos and accounts of the annual whale drive have been surfacing on social media and in the news, with troubling images of blood-stained water and beached carcasses.

    Conservation groups, like PETA UK and Sea Shepherd, are strong opponents of the whaling, which is illegal in Denmark. But the Faroe Islands have laws independent of Denmark's — laws that animal advocates from other countries are currently protesting against.

    Whaling on the Faroe Islands is not for sport or spectacle. The meat and blubber are split amongst the population for consumption. The Faroese get a lot of international backlash, but they are keen on defending this longstanding tradition. Even the evidence suggests that while it may seem cruel, it's actually sustainable. 

    According to Whales and Whaling in the Faroe Islands, the yearly catch is around 800 animals. And the total population in the area around the islands is approximately 100,000 pilot whales. 

    Michael Moore, a senior research specialist in biology at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, weighed in on the discussion. 

    "A mortality rate of 0.8% is very unlikely to be unsustainable given that marine mammal populations have the potential to grow at annual rates significantly higher than that number given adequate prey and lack of other overwhelming mortality factors," Moore told Business Insider. "However, this species is highly sociable and the impact on survivors of removal of social subunits is not understood at all."

    The ecological effects aside, the real issue for islanders may be that — due to decades of ocean pollution from around the world — the whale meat coming eaten in the Faroe Islands is contaminated with mercury, which can be highly toxic to humans.

    What the hunt is like

    In the end, it's the way in which is hunt is conducted that's part of what seems so hard for people outside the Faroese community to understand, though the Faroese themselves say that it's regulated in a way to cause as little suffering as possible

    During the hunt, boats and jet skis corral the pilot whales into the shallows, where men are waiting to hook the blowhole and pull them onto shore. They then cut the spinal cord with a knife.

    While the hunt is meant for pilot whales, other animals get taken down, too. EcoWatch reported that white-sided and bottlenose dolphins are often slaughtered in the events. Orcas are even trapped in the chaos and killed sometimes, as well. 

    The future of the hunt

    Despite the recent protests, this traditional hunting method has been used on the 18 Faroe Islands for over 400 years. It doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.

    "This hunt will only stop when the Faroese deem it in their best interest to do so. I suspect that vocal opposition from other cultures will only reinforce their will to continue," said Moore. "There have been legitimate public health concerns raised for the human health of those that consume these animals."

    The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society reported that pilot whales in the Faroe Islands region carried high levels of mercury in their meat and blubber. Consumption of this contaminated whale meat has been linked to neurological delays and other development problems in children, as well as an increased risk ofcardiovascular problems and Parkinson's disease in adults. In 2008, whale meat was banned from Faroe Islands hospitals, but the conservation society says that otherwise progress on this issue has been "painfully slow."

    Faroe Islands Whaling

    Toxic whales

    The protests of outsiders aside, however, it's possible that participating communities may slowly start to lose interest in whaling if whale meat is seen as harmful.

    "For centuries the pilot whale has been an important part Faroese life – both in regard to food and culture," a team of Faroe Island government researchers wrote in 2012. Yet based on "the latest research results ... the conclusion from a human health perspective must be to recommend that pilot whale is no longer used for human consumption."

    "It is with great sadness that this recommendation is provided," the researchers added.

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    bering land bridge national park

    Remember back in high school when you learned all those human history basics, like the fact that we share a common ancestor with the African ape or that the first Americans reached the continent by way of a grassy strip of terrain called the Bering land bridge that emerged as the ice retreated between Russia and Alaska?

    Turns out that last bit might be wrong.

    According to a new study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the first people to reach the Americas most likely never even saw this route. Instead, they took an alternative, more westward path along the Pacific coastline across lands that are now underwater.

    "It definitely challenges what most people learned in high school," Mikkel Winther Pedersen, the paper's lead author and an anthropologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, told Business Insider.

    For centuries, people have considered the Bering land bridge to be the main highway that the earliest human travelers used to get to the Americas. Back in the 16th century, Spanish explorer Jose de Acosta posited that those early hikers made their way south while tracking massive herds of animals like deer and elk, whose meaty flesh would sustain them on their treacherous journey.

    Here's a GIF showing how the area called Beringia emerged and disappeared over thousands of years:

    The gist of this theory has remained pretty widely accepted among archaeologists, though certain parts of it — like what types of animals and plants lived in the region at the time — are still hotly debated. 

    One recent study, for example, suggested that while the first Americans did indeed travel throughout and even settle in Beringia, they certainly weren't eating any large game, since the landscape would have supported only small animals and perhaps elk. Still, Beringians would have had all the resources they needed to survive there, the authors of that paper argued two years ago in a post for The Conversation.

    The new study challenges that assumption, finding instead that the area simply didn't have the resources to support thousands of hungry humans— at least not until thousands of years later.

    willerslev_first_americans_paper_3 skitched (1)

    But there's strong evidence that humans were present in the Americas long before then. In May a team of archaeologists uncovered a set of 14,550-year-old stone tools and butchered mastodon bones at the bottom of a Florida river — firmly placing the first Americans in those lands 1,000 earlier than scientists once thought

    So the question for the new study's researchers was this: How did these mastodon-hunting Americans get there? Did they somehow manage to eke out a route along the barren terrain of the Bering land bridge? Or did they use another route — perhaps the other ice-free pathway along what's now part of the submerged Pacific coastline?

    To find out, the researchers dug ancient ice cores out of lakes in the region where ice once retreated and filled in with water, essentially forming frozen time capsules. It's a new and developing field of research called environmental DNA, or eDNA for short, that involves carefully inspecting all the genetic material hidden inside a sample of soil, sediment, or water.

    "It was kind of like time travel," Pedersen said.

    Trapped deep inside each ice core, the researchers found layers of sediment, each of which represented a distinct era in ecological time. They used the cores to get a glimpse of what the area looked like from roughly 15,000 years ago — when the ice retreated and the lakes began to fill with liquid water — up until about 12,600 years ago, when animals and plants began to establish themselves there.

    "Putting this together we could suddenly see that well humans couldn't have used this corridor until 12,600," Pedersen said, "because they couldn't have walked along a thousand-kilometer stretch of land without having something to sustain them."

    The finding could change history, Florida State University in Tallahassee archaeologist Jessi Halligan, and one of the authors of the study that uncovered the butchered mastodon bones in Florida but who was not involved with this paper, told Business Insider.

    "This is a really big and important study," said Halligan. "It shows these first Americans couldn’t have taken this corridor — it simply wasn't viable at the time."

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    mobile alabama hurricane isaac flood sea level rise

    It's news to no one that our sea levels are rising as a result of global warming, but scientists have finally confirmed something even more worrying — the rate at which they're rising is actually accelerating.

    And what's truly crazy about this situation is it's been masked from us for more than two decades, thanks to a massive, poorly timed volcanic eruption. Thanks, nature.

    On June 15, 1991, Earth sustained the second-largest volcanic eruption of the century — Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines.

    Described by the US Geological Survey as "cataclysmic," the eruption spewed forth more than 5 cubic kilometers, or 1 cubic mile, of debris, and the resulting ash cloud rose some 35 kilometers, or 22 miles, into the air above.

    A typhoon happened to form at the exact same time, blowing ash in all directions, and avalanches of searing hot ash, gas, and pumice fragments filled nearby valleys with volcanic deposits up to 200 metres, or 660 feet, thick.

    The volcano ejected so much matter that day that its groaning summit gave way and collapsed.

    mount pinatubo volcano

    The event caused nearly 18 million tonnes (20 million tons) of sulphur dioxide to be deposited into Earth's stratosphere, and this huge gas cloud managed to reflect so much sunlight that the volcano literally caused global temperatures to drop by about half a degree Celsius, or 1 degree Fahrenheit, from 1991 to 1993.

    Amazingly, this all happened at the same time as NASA and the French space agency CNES decided to launch the world's first satellite altimeter, called TOPEX/Poseidon, which would allow scientists to start monitoring sea level changes from orbit.

    So from 1992, right when Earth was experiencing a freak cooling period caused by a humongous volcanic eruption, scientists established a whole new way of measuring sea levels, and it has led to one of the biggest mysteries in climate science — why rising sea levels have remained so oddly consistent.

    In fact, for the first decade of operation, the radar altimeter actually showed a decrease in sea level— not exactly what you'd expect when the planet continues to break temperature records every year, and the melting of our icebergs has accelerated.

    "We've been looking at the altimeter records and scratching our heads, and saying, 'Why aren't we seeing an acceleration in the satellite record?' We should be," John Fasullo, a climate scientist from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, told The Washington Post.

    Since the altimeter was launched in 1992, studies based on its data have recorded a consistent rise in sea levels of 3.5 millimetres a year, or about 1.4 inches each decade.

    To test if that was accurate, Fasullo and his team decided to develop 40 different climate-change models that for the first time treated the effect of the volcanic eruption as one big anomaly, and they ended up with a much better representation of what's actually been going on.

    "The scientists estimate as a result that sea level not only fell between 5 and 7 millimetres due to a major ocean cooling event in the eruption's wake, but then experienced a rebound, or bounce back, of the same magnitude once the influence of the eruption had passed,"Chris Mooney reports for the The Washington Post.

    This rebound made it look as if sea levels experienced a sharp increase, followed by a decline, and then ultimately, it appeared to even itself out, but in reality, the results were distorted.

    britain brighton flood wave

    Thanks to the new, more accurate models of what's actually been going on, we now have the first real evidence that global sea levels have been rising at an accelerating rate — something that scientists have been expecting, given the warming of our planet, but the records have said the opposite.

    Since we're basically starting again, Fasullo says it's too soon to figure out exactly how much the sea level rise is actually accelerating, but says we'll have a good indication in five to 10 years' time.

    "Our initial impression of sea level rise was not only influenced by climate change and the rate of change, but the response and the recovery from the eruption itself,"Fasullo told Mooney. "Those effects largely have ebbed by now, and once we get a few more years into the altimeter record, we should see a clear acceleration."

    So the good news is science makes sense again. It was all a mistake — bad volcano, bad. But the bad news is sea levels aren't just rising — they're rising at an accelerating pace, and that's terrifying for anyone who happens to live on a coast.

    The study has been published in Scientific Reports.

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    oyster farming

    Warming seas might be making us sicker.

    Researchers have found that Vibrio bacteria — small organisms that can cause lethal infections such as cholera in humans — have become more abundant in coastal regions of the North Atlantic as water temperatures increased over a 50-year period.

    And that change might be responsible for an "unprecedented" rise in human infections, scientists say.

    The increase in Vibrio bacteria is substantial. The report, published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that since 1958, their numbers have doubled or tripled in certain coastal areas that have also grown warmer. And during that same period, the rate of human infections along the coasts of North America and Northern Europe also increased, reports The Washington Post.

    Vibrio bacteria infect both fish and humans, and the results aren't pretty. Some bacterial species can cause cholera, whereas others poison people through their food, causing symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and chills. And this happens a lot; Vibrio bacteria are responsible for around 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the US each year, according to the CDC. So, having more of these little critters in coastal waters probably isn't a good thing.

    To obtain these results, the scientists analyzed water samples collected over a period of 54 years at nine coastal sites in North America and Europe. In all but one of those sites, the researchers found that Vibrio bacteria thrived and became more abundant as waters warmed. Because of this, the researchers suggest that sea-surface temperature data taken from satellites could be used to predict outbreaks — and plan a response — before they happen.

    SEE ALSO: The seas aren't just rising — they're rising faster

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    Bull Shark

    Aodhán Ó Gogáin, a PhD candidate in the School of Natural Sciences at Ireland's Trinity College, uncovered an interesting new bit of information about a 300-million-year-old shark.

    New fossils of fecal matter found in Canada revealed something a little unsettling: These sharks were feasting on their own young, possibly in times of low food supply. The findings were published on Thursday in the journal Palaeontology.

    Within the fossils, there were loads of juvenile shark teeth. Scientists think that this species, Orthacanthuslived in oily waters in swamps off the coast of Europe and North America, surrounded by hot jungles. When nothing else was available, these top predators might have dipped into their own population to keep from going hungry.

    Scientists refer to this behavior as "filial cannibalism."

    Gogáin described what the shark would have looked like in a press release.

    "Orthacanthus was a three-metre-long xenacanth shark with a dorsal spine, an eel-like body, and tricusped teeth," he said. "There is already evidence from fossilized stomach contents that ancient sharks like Orthacanthus preyed on amphibians and other fish, but this is the first evidence that these sharks also ate the young of their own species."

    He said that they were probably similar to the bull sharks of today because they could survive in brackish swamps and shallow oceans. Gogáin also mentioned that this may be part of the way fish started to colonize inland fresh waters.

    Another coauthor of the study, Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang of the Royal Holloway University of London, noted in the release that although the juvenile shark teeth were found in the fecal matter of adults, there is still some question as to why.

    But, because the time that these sharks lived in was also the time in which marine fish were moving into freshwater locations, there might have been a decreased food supply for the sharks. This could have caused them to eat their own young for survival — an ironic twist on trying to keep the species alive.

    It looks like this isn't the only time a species has been forced to cannibalize its own members in attempts to survive, however. Recently, seagulls in Washington state have started eating their own chicks, for example, because rising water temperatures have caused plankton, their main food source, to vanish.

    So, while it may seem like an usually sinister phenomenon, cannibalistic ways appear to be a long-practiced final resort for animals who are trying to hold on in the face of changing environmental conditions.

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    If humans have any hope of living forever, we should probably take a hint from the dozens of other animals on Earth that far outpace our measly 71 years. These long-lived animals aren't limited to a particular species, either: Everything from certain types of fish to some tortoises thrive far beyond what we might consider a normal lifespan.


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    You're a gazelle.

    You're a gazelle who's about to have a very bad day.

    That's because as you and your herd are going along your business on the Ustyart Plateau of northern Uzbekistan, you come across a ridge in the ground. You keep running alongside it, then it disappears. So you think nothing of it.

    Then you find another ridge in your path. You don't like having things in your way, so you veer a little to follow it, figuring it will disappear soon too.

    Then you find yourself — and the rest of your herd — at the bottom of a ditch.

    That's how scientists think real structures called desert kites worked. They were built over a huge span of time, from 8,000 to 2,500 years ago across a swath of land from the Middle East to Central Asia.

    They're basically gigantic traps. We heard about them in a National Geographic story, but they were first noticed during World War I. Desert kites are hard to see from the ground — they just seem like random ditches and ridges.

    But from the air, the patterns they make begin to pop out. They look a bit like a grade-schooler's drawing of a tulip with the middle petal missing. In this satellite image, the outer edges of two desert kites are highlighted.

    two trapsPeople have speculated they were used for everything from religious ceremonies to camel fences. But the current theory is that they were elaborate funnels for trapping herds of wild gazelle and similar animals — as many as a hundred at a time.

    For the last few years, scientists from a range of fields have begun to study them in earnest. They've worked on mapping them, figuring out how they may have been used, and even estimating the impact the technique may have had on the animals it caught.

    You can see how desert kites worked in this video beginning at 4:35.

    Desert kites are pretty widespread: more than 5,000 have been spotted. But scientists have been able to identify some local differences in precisely how they're designed.

    The desert kites were still used by locals as recently as early in the 20th century, but they aren't much of a risk to wildlife now. That's because there aren't huge herds roaming the plateaus these days.

    For example, saigas, a type of lumpy-nosed antelope, died at incredibly high rates last year due to a mysterious disease. Even over the past three decades, residents have noticed sharp declines in the animals around them.

    saigaBut at the peak of their use, scientists say, the desert kites could have helped push some species to extinction.

    The problem with slaughtering huge portions of the population en masse isn't just the number of animals you lose. It also changes what the population looks like.

    Instead of picking off the oldest or the slowest or the sickest or the injured — the ones who can't outrun an arrow or a bullet — this type of hunting kills off more adults and young adults. That means there are fewer animals reproducing and makes the population more fragile.

    When scientists looked at the skeletons of animals buried near desert kites, they found exactly this pattern: lots of healthy animals, some just a few months old. They believe the kites contributed to the extinction of the Persian gazelle, which hunters may have been targeting.

    But we use now a surprisingly similar technique to harvest the oceans. A purse seine is a giant net — as much as a mile long — that can catch a whole school of fish in one go. It's great for efficiency, but helps contribute to a global problem of overfishing. Global fish populations have been declining since 1988.

    No matter what happens to the oceans' fish, archaeologists will never study purse seines the way they've been able to study desert kites. But there's still more to learn from these giant arrows pointing to nowhere — and perhaps how to live within the planet's resources is one of those lessons.

    SEE ALSO: 5 remarkable adaptations that allowed humans to conquer the world

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    renewable energy, solar panel, wind turbine

    Despite the gains we've made in renewable energy, Americans' reliance on fossil fuels seems hard to escape. But some cities are leading the way.

    The environmental group Sierra Club compiled a list of some of the US cities that are on track to becoming 100% powered by renewable energy in the next 20 years — including some that are already there.

    The group defined renewable energy as "carbon- and pollution-free energy collected from renewable, sustainably harvested sources, such as wind, solar, hydro, tidal, and geothermal, as well as energy efficiency.

    "Our definition does not include natural gas, nuclear, or any carbon-based energy source."

    Here are the 10 cities that are committed to pulling it off:

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    San Diego, California

    San Diego may be the furthest on this list from reaching its sustainability goal, though it's also the largest city on the list. Among its goals, San Diego hopes to get 90% of its vehicles running on electricity.

    Population: 1.37 million

    100% renewable status: By 2035

    Rochester, Minnesota

    In the next 15 years, the Minnesota city that's home to the Mayo Clinic aims to go 100% renewable, which will be no small feat. It's still figuring out what the best way to power the city will be.

    Population: 100,000

    100% renewable status achieved: By 2031

    San Francisco, California

    The densely populated city aims to be 100% renewable in the next 15 years by encouraging investment in clean energy sources as well as pushing for reductions in energy usage around the city.

    Population: 864,000

    100% renewable status: By 2030

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Hurricane Sandy From Space

    We're moving into the peak of a hurricane season that could be the strongest since 2012, the year Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now expects a higher likelihood of a near-normal or above-normal hurricane season.

    "We've raised the numbers because some conditions now in place are indicative of a more active hurricane season,"says Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

    The NOAA reports a 70% chance of 12 to 17 named storms, of which five to eight are expected to become hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes.

    This is an increase from the NOAA's May outlook, which called for 10 to 16 named storms, of which four to eight were expected to become hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes.

    While a difference of one predicted major hurricane may not seem significant, as Hurricane Sandy proved, one major storm can take a catastrophic toll on life and property.

    As the NOAA estimated in 2013, the death count from Hurricane Sandy totaled 147 direct deaths, and the storm damaged or destroyed at least 650,000 houses and left approximately 8.5 million customers without power during the storm and its wake.

    Since Hurricane Sandy, the past few hurricane seasons in the Atlantic have been considered "below normal."

    So far we've seen a number of tropical storms named, including Bonnie in South Carolina, Colin in western Florida, Danielle in eastern Mexico, and Earl in Belize and Mexico:

    2016 storms so far

    SEE ALSO: Hurricane season is officially here

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    NOW WATCH: These futuristic beach homes were inspired by the devastating power of hurricanes

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    paris climate agreement

    The United Nations climate change conference held last year in Paris had the aim of tackling future climate change.

    After the deadlocks and weak measures that arose at previous meetings, such as Copenhagen in 2009, the Paris summit was different.

    The resulting Paris Agreement committed to:

    Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

    The agreement was widely met with cautious optimism. Certainly, some of the media were pleased with the outcome while acknowledging the deal’s limitations.

    Many climate scientists were pleased to see a more ambitious target being pursued, but what many people fail to realize is that actually staying within a 1.5℃ global warming limit is nigh on impossible.

    There seems to be a strong disconnect between what the public and climate scientists think is achievable. The problem is not helped by the media’s apparent reluctance to treat it as a true crisis.

    The 1.5 limit is nearly impossible

    In 2015, we saw global average temperatures a little over 1℃ above pre-industrial levels, and 2016 will very likely be even hotter. In February and March of this year, temperatures were 1.38℃ above pre-industrial averages.

    Admittedly, these are individual months and years with a strong El Niño influence (which makes global temperatures more likely to be warmer), but the point is we’re already well on track to reach 1.5℃ pretty soon.

    So when will we actually reach 1.5℃ of global warming?

     Animated timeline showing best current estimates of when global average temperatures will rise beyond 1.5℃ and 2℃ above pre-industrial levels. Boxes represent 90% confidence intervals; whiskers show the full range. 

    On our current emissions trajectory we will likely reach 1.5℃ within the next couple of decades (2024 is our best estimate). The less ambitious 2℃ target would be surpassed not much later.

    This means we probably have only about a decade before we break through the ambitious 1.5℃ global warming target agreed to by the world’s nations in Paris.

    A University of Melbourne research group recently published these spiral graphs showing just how close we are getting to 1.5℃ warming. Realistically, we have very little time left to limit warming to 2℃, let alone 1.5℃.

    This is especially true when you bear in mind that even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions right now, we would likely experience about another half-degree of warming as the oceans “catch up” with the atmosphere.

    Parallels with climate change skepticism

    The public seriously underestimates the level of consensus among climate scientists that human activities have caused the majority of global warming in recent history. Similarly, there appears to be a lack of public awareness about just how urgent the problem is.

    Many people think we have plenty of time to act on climate change and that we can avoid the worst impacts by slowly and steadily reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades.

    This is simply not the case. Rapid and drastic cuts to emissions are needed as soon as possible.

    In conjunction, we must also urgently find ways to remove greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. At present, this is not yet viable on a large scale.

    Euro heatwave Spain

    Is 1.5 even enough to avoid “dangerous” climate change?

    The 1.5℃ and 2℃ targets are designed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It’s certainly true that the more we warm the planet, the worse the impacts are likely to be. However, we are already experiencing dangerous consequences of climate change, with clear impacts on society and the environment.

    For example, a recent study found that many of the excess deaths reported during the summer 2003 heatwave in Europe could be attributed to human-induced climate change.

    Also, research has shown that the warm seas associated with the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in March 2016 would have been almost impossible without climate change.

    Climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, from heatwaves in Australia to heavy rainfall in Britain.

    These events are just a taste of the effects of climate change. Worse is almost certainly set to come as we continue to warm the planet.

    It’s highly unlikely we will achieve the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, but that doesn’t mean governments should give up. It is vital that we do as much as we can to limit global warming.

    The more we do now, the less severe the impacts will be, regardless of targets. The simple take-home message is that immediate, drastic climate action will mean far fewer deaths and less environmental damage in the future.

    This article is adapted from a blog post that originally appeared here.

    Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne and Benjamin J. Henley, Research Fellow in Climate and Water Resources, University of Melbourne. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    SEE ALSO: Humanity just used up Earth's entire 2016 'budget'

    DON'T MISS: 3 developments that could help the world stay below a dangerous global warming threshold

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    NOW WATCH: Here's why the Olympic diving pool turned green

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    amite louisiana flood rainfall

    Over the weekend, parts of Louisiana and Mississippi saw more than a foot — 2 feet, in some neighborhoods — of rain from a stalled storm. NBC News reported that more than 20,000 people had been rescued and seven people have been killed.

    The worst of the rain is over, but that doesn't mean the flooding is too.

    "I'm still asking people to be patient. Don't get out and sightsee," Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana told the Associated Press. "Even when the weather is better, it's not safe."

    A handful of factors are coming together to keep the risks high over the next few days.

    First, there are scattered pockets of rain in the forecast for the area this week. While 1 or 2 inches of rain usually wouldn't be a problem, with the ground already saturated there isn't anywhere for more rain to go.

    A second factor is that floodwaters upstream are still making their way down toward the Gulf of Mexico. That's a huge amount of water, and there's a chance it won't all stay within the riverbanks as it makes its way south.

    According to the Weather Channel, at least six rivers in the area have hit record-high levels — one river broke its record by as much as 6 feet. And parts of that same river, the Amite, weren't expected to hit their highest level until sometime on Monday.

    Moreover, the National Weather Service believes these will be "long crest" events, potentially lasting days, rather than lighter crests that fade quickly.

    "It's not over," Edwards warned, according to NBC News. "The water's going to rise in many areas. It's no time to let the guard down."

    An aerial photo over Hammond, Louisiana, shows flooded homes.

    Even after floodwaters begin to recede, they could rise again because of backwater flooding, which occurs upstream when something blocks the flow of water downstream. The National Weather Service warned that backwater flooding was a risk along the streams that flow into the Amite River.

    Taken together, these factors mean the National Weather Service is concerned about flooding continuing "during at least the first half of the workweek."

    This flood is so unusual that experts aren't even sure precisely what will happen and where the water will go. "It's unprecedented and it's not anything anyone will know for sure," hydrologist Jeff Grashel told a local newspaper.

    All of this is happening against the backdrop of climate change. According to one meteorologist's count, there have been at least eight 500-year rainstorms in the US within the past year — that means rainfalls so heavy they are predicted to occur only once every 500 years. This storm was so strong in part because it fed off unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico.

    SEE ALSO: Thousands rescued from waist-deep Louisiana flood waters, which the Governor called 'unprecedented' and 'historic'

    SEE ALSO: A college student created this plan to save New York City from future floods

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    NOW WATCH: The center of Paris is completely under water

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    great barrier reef

    The health of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is declining– a fact that has not been lost on the world’s media.

    The issue has made international headlines and attracted comment from public figures such as US President Barack Obama and British businessman Richard Branson.

    Some media outlets and tourism operators have sought to downplay the effects, presumably to try to mitigate the impact on tourism. The industry provides roughly 65,000 jobs and contributes more than A$5 billion a year to the Australian economy.

    But our research suggests that the ailing health of the GBR has in fact given tourists a new reason to visit, albeit one that doesn’t exactly promise a long-term future.

    When we surveyed hundreds of GBR tourists last year, 69% of them said they had opted to visit the reef “before it is gone” – and that was before the latest bleaching generated fresh international headlines about its plight.

    ‘Last chance’ tourism

    great barrier reef endangered“Last chance tourism” (LCT) is a phenomenon whereby tourists choose to visit a destination that is perceived to be in danger, with the express intention of seeing it before it’s gone.

    The media obviously play a large role in this phenomenon – the more threatened the public perceives a destination to be, the bigger the market for LCT.

    There’s a vicious cycle at play here: tourists travel to see a destination before it disappears, but in so doing they contribute to its demise, either directly through on-site pressures or, in the case of climate-threatened sites such as the GBR, through greenhouse gas emissions. These added pressures increase the vulnerability of the destination and in turn push up the demand for LCT still further.

    The GBR often features on lists of tourist destinations to see before they disappear, alongside places such as Glacier National Park, the Maldives and the Galapagos Islands.

    While the media have proclaimed the reef to be an LCT destination, it has not previously been empirically confirmed that tourists are indeed motivated to visit specifically because of its vulnerable status.

    Surveying reef tourists

    We wanted to find out how many of the GBR’s holidaymakers are “last chance” tourists. To that end, we surveyed 235 tourists visiting three major tourism hotspots, Port Douglas, Cairns and Airlie Beach, to identify their leading motivations for visiting.

    We gave them a suggested list of 15 reasons, including “to see the reef before it is gone”; “to rest and relax”; “to discover new places and things”, and others. We then asked them to rate the importance of each reason on a five-point scale, from “not at all” to “extremely”.

    We found that 69% of tourists were either “very” or “extremely” motivated to see the reef before it was gone. This reason attracted the highest proportion of “extremely” responses (37.9%) of any of the 15 reasons.

    This reason was also ranked the fourth-highest by average score on the five-point scale. The top three motivations by average score were: “to discover new places and things”; “to rest and relax; and "to get away from the demands of everyday life”.

    Our results also confirmed that the media have played a large role in shaping tourists' perceptions of the GBR. The internet was the most used information source (68.9% of people) and television the third (54.4%), with word of mouth coming in second (57%).

    Our findings suggest that the GBR’s tribulations could offer a short-term tourism boost, as visitors flock to see this threatened natural wonder. But, in the long term, the increased tourism might exacerbate the pressure on this already vulnerable region – potentially even hastening the collapse of this ecosystem and the tourism industry that relies on its health.

    This paradox is deepened further when we consider that many of the tourists in our survey who said they were visiting the reef to “see it before it is gone” nevertheless had low levels of concern about their own impacts on the region.

    Where to from here?

    Climate Change, Great Barrier Reef

    We undertook our survey in 2015, before this year’s bleaching event, described as the most severe in the GBR’s history.

    This raises another question: is there a threshold beyond which the GBR is seen as “too far gone” to visit? If so, might future more frequent or severe bleaching episodes take us past that threshold?

    As the most important source of information for tourists visiting the GBR, the media in particular need to acknowledge their own important role in informing the public. Media outlets need to portray the reef’s current status as accurately as possible. The media’s power and influence also afford them a great opportunity to help advocate for the GBR’s protection.

    Educating tourists about the threats facing the GBR is an important way forward, particularly as our research identified major gaps in tourists' understanding of the specific threats facing the GBR and the impacts of their own behavior. Many survey respondents, for instance, expressed low levels of concern about agricultural runoff, despite this being one of the biggest threats facing the GBR.

    Of course, tourism is just one element in a complex web of issues that affect the GBR and needs to be part of a wider consideration of the reef’s future.

    The only thing that is certain is that more needs to be done to ensure this critical ecosystem can survive, so that tourists who think this is the last chance to see it can hopefully be proved wrong.

    Annah Piggott-McKellar, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland and Karen Elizabeth McNamara, Senior lecturer, The University of Queensland

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    SEE ALSO: The seas aren't just rising — they're rising faster

    DON'T MISS: 7 natural wonders that humans could destroy within a generation

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    NOW WATCH: What abandoned Olympic venues from around the world look like today

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    plastic ocean garbage trash

    The world’s oceans are awash in plastic pollution, and as these maps and charts show, the situation is poised to worsen unless drastic changes take place.

    Over the coming decades global plastic production is slated to increase nearly sixfold, and collection and recycling systems in many parts of the world already are struggling to keep up with the proliferation of plastic products and associated waste.

    Broadly speaking, plastic pollution comes from three main sources: single-use applications such as food packaging and disposable consumer goods; long-lasting plastic items, including pipes and construction materials; and durable consumer products such as electronics and furniture.

    The impacts of plastic — and in particular, microplastic — on marine life can be devastating. Hundreds of species of seabirds, turtles, seals, sea lions, whales and fish have suffered entanglement or death due to plastic pollution in recent decades.

    This collection of maps and charts prepared by Norway-based GRID-Arendal— a United Nations Environment Programme affiliate and partner with a mission of creating environmental knowledge to enable positive change — explains how plastic ends up in the world’s oceans and explores steps being taken to reverse this trend.

    SEE ALSO: 5 countries dump more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined

    DON'T MISS: Scientists are scrambling to come up with ways of getting plastics out of our oceans — and they’ve proposed some pretty unusual ideas

    Pathways to pollution

    One of the major challenges of addressing plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is the fact that sources of entry are multiple and widespread.


    The global production of petroleum-derived plastic has increased dramatically, from 1.5 million metric tons (1.7 million tons) in 1950 to more than 300 million metric tons (330 million tons) in 2014. If the current production trend — approximately 5 percent increase per year — continues, another 33 billion metric tons (36 billion tons) of plastic will accumulate around the planet by 2050, further driving the need for better methods of collection and recycling.

    Capturing plastic at the source

    Not surprisingly, countries with limited wastewater treatment and municipal solid waste facilities often see larger amounts of plastic debris entering the ocean from their shores.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    nomada marshamella uk bee

    For years, there's been suspicion that a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids are bad for bees. The chemicals, which farmers apply to their crops to keep away insects that munch through their harvests, are among the most used bug-killers out there.

    But ecologists have worried the chemicals also affect the insects that help support harvests.

    Bees have been mysteriously disappearing in what's called colony collapse disorder, which some scientists believe neonicotinoids are contributing to.

    That's a problem because the pollination work bees do is hugely valuable. Commercially managed honeybees produce about $15 billion in value for the US alone and wild American bees another $9 billion.

    There's finally a study that tries to actually parse out the effects neonicotinoids have on bees in the wild. It looks at 62 different wild bee species in the UK.

    That's important because while only three species of bees and bumblebees are kept by beekeepers and used commercially, experts believe there are closer to 250 wild species in the UK and 4,000 in the US. And while we don't manage them, we do benefit from their pollination.

    The new study, which was published August 16 in the journal Nature Communications, also looks at an 18-year timespan that begins before neonicotinoids were introduced in 2002. That means the researchers could actually establish a baseline for how bees were doing before farmers began widely using the chemicals.

    oilseed rape rapeseed yellow flowerNeonicotinoids are used particularly on rapeseed, one variety of which is turned into canola oil. During the month or two they bloom, the flowers turn swaths of the British countryside a shocking yellow.

    Some bees like the flowers; some don't. So the scientists were able to divvy bees up by their taste for rapeseed, then look at how their populations changed over almost two decades of surveys.

    For a few bees, the scientists estimate about a fifth of their population declines was due to neonicotinoids.

    That's not enough to kill off bees taken by itself. But pesticides aren't the only challenge bees are facing. Climate change, differences in how we use the land and what plants they can feed on, and parasites and diseases that infect bees are also putting a dent in populations.

    And it doesn't necessarily mean we should stop using neonicotinoids cold turkey. "It needs to be taken in a very holistic perspective, you can't just say as long as we can save the bees everything else can go to hell, that's not where you want to be at," lead scientist Ben Woodcock told the BBC.

    Both the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides in the US, and the European equivalent are already in the process of re-evaluating their rules for neonicotinoids.

    The study isn't quite the gold standard of science, since the researchers were just watching what happened from changes already in place rather than carefully controlling circumstances so that pesticide exposure was the only difference between groups.

    But that kind of study is really hard to do in ecology — and getting a long-term, large-scale look at a range of species is better information than we've had before.

    SEE ALSO: Something disturbing is happening to honey bee colonies and scientists can't explain why

    DON'T MISS: A major insecticide is being investigated for links to mass deaths of honey bees

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Incredible video of bees swarming their hive in slow motion

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    Richard Rossi and his 4 year old great grandson Justice wade through water in search of higher ground after their home took in water in St. Amant, Louisiana, U.S., August 15, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

    Last weekend, nearly two feet of rain fell on parts of southern Louisiana in the span of two days, leaving at least 10 people dead and over 20,000 in need of rescue. 

    A storm of this caliber should only happen once every 500 years. But this marks the eighth event of its kind — joining floods in Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland— according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    And if the planet continues to get warmer, climate scientists think disasters like this will keep happening.

    "We are in record territory," a letter from the National Weather Service in New Orleans read. The letter was prompted by the NWS launching a weather balloon, recording near levels of atmospheric moisture, according to the Guardian.

     That near record-breaking moisture build-up is caused by overall warmer surface temperatures, since warm weather makes it possible for the air to be filled with water vapor — hence the heavy, soaking storms, according to NOAA. And that opens the door for more floods down the road.

    "We have been on an upward trend in terms of heavy rainfall events over the past two decades, which is likely related to the amount of water vapor going up in the atmosphere," Dr. Kenneth Kunkel of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites said, according to the Guardian. "There's a very tight loop — as surface temperatures of the oceans warm up, the immediate response is more water vapor in the atmosphere. We're in a system inherently capable of producing more floods."

    The scary part is how fast the planet will probably get warmer. Last July was the hottest month in recorded history, a combination of El Niño ocean warming and man-made global warming.

    An aerial photo over Hammond, Louisiana, shows flooded homes.

    When humans create greenhouse gases by doing human things, like burning fossil fuels, it creates a gradually thickening layer of those gases. That layer prevents heat from leaving the planet, meaning the heat just bounces between the atmosphere and the surface, perpetually heating up the planet. And that explains why Earth is on course for having its hottest year on record for thethird year in a row.

    The floods in Louisiana are the direct result of a warming planet that don't need the sophisticated explanations offered by climate scientists and NASA geniuses — though, obviously, that input is important. This is global warming you can see: Humans burn fuel to create gas; gases trap the heat; the heat allows the air to fill up with water vapor; and the water vapor eventually creates fat, thick rain drops that pummel towns and leave residents dead.

    So if you ever wonder what global warming actually does, ask someone in Louisiana. They'll tell you all about it.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    see through transparent clear wood university maryland

    Wood is a strong and versatile building material, but it rots, gets eaten by bugs, and blocks light.

    Plain sheets of glass aren't much better. They shatter easily and let a lot of energy leak into or out of a building.

    But engineers have recently figured out how to find the best of both worlds by making see-through wood.

    The team, led by materials scientist Liangbing Hu at the University of Maryland, developed a patented process to turn wood translucent, make it more durable, and lend it incredible strength.

    We first wrote about this wild-looking material in May 2016, but the same scientists recently published a detailed study about its properties in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.

    How strong is it? The engineers write in the study that it has "high impact energy absorption that eliminates the safety issues often presented by glass."

    Because seeing is believing, watch them whack this stuff with a hammer as hard as they can. You can see a regular piece of (thoroughly shattered) glass at left that did not fare so well with the same test:

    see through wood hammer strength university maryland

    The recipe to make translucent wood like this is a secret for now, but Martha Heil, a University of Maryland Nanocenter spokesperson, told Business Insider in May that the process uses bleach, epoxy, and — of course — wood.

    First the researchers soak the wood in lye, also known as sodium hydroxide. The chemical removes lignin, a compound in wood that normally makes wood brown, strong, and resistant to the munching of pests.

    Heil said it takes about 10 minutes to bleach a very thin piece of wood and up to 24 hours to bleach a small log.

    Next the wood is soaked in a "clear liquid" to clear it up. At this stage the wood is "very friable, or as one researcher put it, 'crunchy,'" said Heil.

    It looks like this if you don't bleach the wood long enough — note the lignin-packed rings of the wood:

    see through wood university maryland

    Fully processed, clarified wood gets soaked in a glue-like epoxy that makes it very hard and clear.

    This turns the porous tubes of cellulose in wood — which normally suck water up toward leaves and pull sugars down toward roots — into highly efficient light diffusers.

    "You have a uniform consistent indoor lighting, which is ... independent of where the sun is," materials scientist Tian Li said in a YouTube video released by the university, so even light from a glancing angle will illuminate the see-through wood.

    And because this "glass" is made of wood, it's also a better insulator against heat.

    "Our transparent wood also has a much lower thermal conductivity compared with glass, making it a better thermally insulating building material with a lower carbon footprint," the team wrote in the new study.

    The researchers hope their creation will reinvent wood as the next big thing in renewable building materials, but they have yet to scale up their bench-top work to a manufacturing level — and perfect a process that relies on less harmful chemicals.

    "Making transparent wood requires using epoxy, so it's not very environmentally friendly right now," Heil said, noting the research team is "experimenting with other types of clear stiffeners, which will include PVP (polyvinylphenol), which is recyclable."

    We can't speak for everyone, but we're really looking forward to green, shatterproof privacy windows in bathrooms that are made of wood.

    Watch the full clip on the see-through wooden "glass" below.

    SEE ALSO: Engineers have made clear wood that's stronger than plain wood

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    NOW WATCH: This is the blackest material on earth

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    goldfish lake

    If you've ever dumped a pet goldfish in a nearby body of water and thought your act was harmless, think again.

    The seemingly innocent creatures are wreaking havoc on ecosystems around the globe.

    In April 2015, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials faced an infestation of 4,000 goldfish in a lake in Boulder County a few years after someone was believed to have dumped a handful of pet goldfish into a nearby lake.

    In 2013, wildlife officials in California reported that the fish had begun taking over Lake Tahoe, likely after pet owners had tossed them there.

    And for the past 12 years, goldfish populations have been surging in the Vasse River in southwestern Australia, where researchers say the public's well-intentioned disposal practice is a big part of the problem.

    goldfish lake!

    The problem is not just that tons of tiny goldfish are in streams where there previously were none — the fish are also growing to massive sizes, in some cases getting as big as 4 pounds, according to Dr. Stephen Beatty, a professor at Murdoch University who has been leading research on how best to address the problem in southwest Australia.

    He and his team members regularly found goldfish weighing about 2 pounds, they told Australian radio station 720 ABC Perth.

    In Lake Tahoe, US Forest Service fish biologists reported being well acquainted with the supersized fish, which often weighed several pounds and measured between 4 and 8 inches.

    giant fish 2

    In each case, local dumping appears to play a serious role.

    "Perhaps they were kids' pets where the family have been moving house and their parents, not wanting to take the aquarium, have dumped them in the local wetlands," Beatty told 720 ABC Perth.

    Since the goldfish are a nonnative species in these area, wildlife officials are concerned that they are threatening the natural aquatic ecosystem.

    "It's a bad thing — it's a really bad thing," Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Jennifer Churchill told Fox 31 News last year. "They'll start eating up everything that the native fish and the amphibians and the birds are here to eat, and so that can have a really negative effect down the road — and this can kill this fishery in a few years."

    teller lake skitch

    But questions about how the populations grew to such massive proportions were still boggling scientists.

    A paper that Beatty and his team published August 12 in the journal Ecology of Freshwater Fish found that goldfish, who were assumed to be pretty limited in terms of how far they could travel, can actually travel long distances to feed and forage, Mashable reported.

    The researchers also found evidence that the fish are migrating to nearby wetlands and reproducing, which further fuels their population growth.

    "Just letting go of a pet, no matter how innocuous you think it is in your aquarium or how pretty it is, can potentially cause a lot of damage," Beatty told Mashable.

    Amanda Macias contributed reporting.

    SEE ALSO: Archaeologists have uncovered genetic evidence that rewrites a fundamental aspect of American history

    DON'T MISS: A shark just set the record for the longest-living animal of its kind on Earth — here are the runners up

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