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Updated: 36 min 37 sec ago

The age of the self-indulgent 'explorer' is over – true adventurers are scientists, like me

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 03:58

As the first crackle of thunder reverberated around me I knew I needed to act fast. A bolt of lightning followed almost immediately, too quickly for me to find a safe landing point and get off the water. It was the first day of The Hudson Project, my mission to solo paddleboard the entire tidal Hudson River in New York – all 170 miles of it – and the latest in a series of ‘adventures with purpose’ I had undertaken to draw attention to the global plastic crisis.   In one hand I was holding a carbon fiber paddle – a known conductor of electricity – and in the other I was clutching a walkie-talkie desperately trying to make contact with the logistics team positioned some three miles downstream at the nearest marina and, importantly, my closest exit point. The thunder rumbled again, another warning, as I rushed for cover under a large road bridge before a chorus of sharp white darts struck several places around the water. I was scared and, in that instant, questioned the motivation to put myself in this position. While there’s no denying that pulse-quickening thrills and the opportunity to test your stamina and character is part of the charm of adventure, it certainly isn’t enough of a motivation to tempt me into potentially dangerous or hostile situations. The incentive came with a bigger reason than a self-indulgent quest for personal growth, setting speed records or gaining recognition. Exploration, by its very definition, is centred on bringing back and sharing information and data to improve, educate and challenge perceptions of a particular environment. In its earliest guise, explorers would unearth foreign lands, discovering unknown civilizations and experiencing unique cultures. But in the age of 3D animation, geo-modelling, social connectivity and satellite mapping of the entire Earth’s surface there is very little – if anything else – left to physically uncover on land. Lizzie paddleboarded the length of the Hudson Credit: Maximus in NYC While we are still scratching the surface when it comes to the darkest depths of the ocean and outer space, modern day exploration on land has evolved far beyond plotting boundaries. As the environmental issues we confront become increasingly complex and challenging, the need for further research and insight to better understand the widespread scale is more urgent than ever. Adventure exploits can be justified by contributing meaningfully to scientific research, and the rise of technology and global connectivity is allowing individuals to tell stories and gather data in unprecedented ways. As part of my mission to stand-up paddleboard the Hudson River I intended to capture data through citizen science – a common theme of all my challenges. I worked closely with organizations and researchers on the front line of climate change and, more specifically, plastic pollution along the Hudson River to ensure my plans would enhance their own activity and allow us to identify patterns and trends from our mutual efforts. I introduced Smart Fin technology (a detachable micro chipped fin) that passively and periodically collected water temperature and motion characteristics, allowing me to create, for the very first time, a baseline for the tidal Hudson. I geo-tagged every single piece of plastic I encountered using the Plastic Patrol app I had developed two years earlier to crowd-source data on plastic pollution worldwide. The global map clearly illustrates types of plastic people are finding, where they are located and, ultimately, the brands responsible. To date, the app has attracted more than 50,000 examples shared across 26 countries to provide real-time insight into the issue. We have reached a new era of exploration, one that allows anyone to be an adventure scientist with a little bit of research and planning. Earlier this year NASA called for backcountry skiers to report on snow levels in Alaska using, simply, a smartphone and measuring stick. Insight would help them calculate the volume of water likely to end up on the region’s rivers and reservoirs when the snows melted and inform whether the implementation of proactive flood measures were required. Lizzie approaching New York City on her paddleboard Credit: Maximus in NYC NASA’s programme didn’t stop on the slopes. Scuba divers were tasked with recording changes in giant kelp across the globe, and they found ways to learn more about mosquito populations and their breeding environments – all thanks to the interest and support of the public willing to embark on adventure that served a greater purpose beyond their own enjoyment. The future of our planet relies on understanding the challenges it confronts. We all have the tools to become explorers in the modern sense of the word, and if we want to safeguard the planet we have a duty to step up to this role when we travel. Lizzie Carr's new book Paddling Britain, published by Bradt Travel Guides, is out now. You can find out more about her projects on lizzieoutside.co.uk. 


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Philippines marks five years since its deadliest storm

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 03:46

Philippine survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan recalled their terror and loss in memorial gatherings held Thursday for the thousands killed five years ago in the country's worst storm on record. Then the strongest typhoon to ever hit land, Haiyan left more than 7,360 people dead or missing across the central Philippines, with a tsunami-like storm surge wiping out communities and triggering a global humanitarian response. In Tacloban, the worst-hit city, residents painted gravestones in memory of the typhoon dead.


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Race to stop Norway frigate sinking after oil tanker collision

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 03:26

An operation was underway Thursday to try to stop a Norwegian navy frigate from sinking after it collided with a Maltese oil tanker in a fjord in western Norway. Eight people received minor injuries in the accident, which took place shortly after 4:00 am (0300 GMT) in a busy waterway in the Hjeltefjord near Bergen, Norway's army said. The 137 people on board the KNM Helge Ingstad frigate, which was returning from NATO's Trident Juncture exercises, have been evacuated after the collision with the Sola TS tanker, the army said.


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EU court backs Dyson on vacuum cleaner energy tests

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 02:34

An EU court ruled Thursday that Brussels regulators are wrong to test the energy efficiency of vacuum cleaners using empty dust bags, in a victory for British manufacturer Dyson. Household vacuums sold in Europe must carry energy labelling to allow consumers to judge which models are more efficient and thus cheaper to run and less damaging to the environment. On Thursday, the General Court of the European Union, the bloc's second-highest court, agreed with the British firm and annulled the European Commission's regulation on the testing of vacuum cleaners.


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Well, turns out you can pack in a lot of mosquitoes without killing them

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 23:17

Mailing mosquitoes doesn't seem wise on the surface. Nevertheless, researchers from New Mexico State University have been looking into it, as part of an effort to help control the spread of disease. SEE ALSO: The air quality in India is horrendously bad right now. Here's why. Sending out sterilised male mosquitoes from the lab back into the wild is one way to help reduce numbers, as they mate with females but don't produce any offspring.  But there's the issue of figuring out how to send thousands, or even millions of mosquitoes into a chosen wilderness area. Would they survive a 24-hour shipping process? And how many would you be able to fit in a package?  The answer is yes, and you can fit in quite a lot of the insects, as per a study published in the Journal of Insect Science on Wednesday. NMSU's Hae-Na Chung and her team of researchers discovered you can fit in 240 live mosquitoes per cubic centimetre, which equates to 1,200 mosquitoes to a teaspoon. "We started our experiments in 50 milliliter tubes and quickly learned that you have to raise a lot of mosquitoes to fill such a tube — 10,000 males fit in one. We then switched to 10 millilitre syringes and were astonished how many mosquitoes you can fit into one, up to 2,500," Immo Hansen, an associate professor at NMSU, said in a statement online. For a shipping test, a precise number of the mosquitoes were packed into 10-millilitre syringes, of which the plungers were then compressed to the 1-millilitre mark (1 cubic centimetre). They were then packed into a styrofoam container with a cooling element, then shipped from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Davis, California. Upon delivery, the mosquitoes were inspected for survival rate and damage. At 240 mosquitoes per cubic centimetre, the highest density tested, there were missing scales, and some of the insects had slightly damaged wings. But the tightness of the packing seemed to be more of a benefit. "The high mortality of the not-so-densely packed mosquitoes in our real-world shipping assay was unexpected," Hansen added. "We hypothesize that the vibrations during transport, especially during the flight, affected the loosely packed mosquitoes more than the densely packed ones." The next step for researchers is to discover how fit the mosquitoes are following shipment, which they aim to discover through semi-field experiments next year. Feeling itchy? WATCH: Take a look inside an eerie abandoned school near Chernobyl — Sharp Science


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Here's How Popular Yoga and Meditation Really Are

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 22:01

Alternative health practices are becoming mainstream


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Former Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson leaves Jeff Bezos’ space venture

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 20:36

Rob Meyerson, who was the president of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture until this year, says he’s left the company. Since January, Meyerson has served as senior vice president, in charge of advanced development programs such as the Blue Moon lunar lander system and the New Armstrong interplanetary-class rocket. In an email, he told GeekWire that Friday was his last day at the company, which grew from 10 employees to more than 1,500 during his tenure. Meyerson said he was “taking some time off to determine my next steps.” The Michigan native came to Kent, Wash.-based Blue… Read More


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Florida's Greyhound Racing Ban Means Thousands of Dogs Will Need a New Home

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 18:19

“We will do everything we can do to make sure that every one of them gets adopted”


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Women Veterans Prevail in Midterms, Despite Downward Trend for Veterans in General

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 18:05

Despite mixed results for veterans, experts say it's a banner year for female veteran candidates


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The first-ever U.S. fee on carbon is defeated, and Big Oil might be to blame

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 13:24

Washington voters have likely defeated what would have been the United States' first-ever fee on carbon pollution. Although votes are still being counted, on Tuesday night The Seattle Times reported that after officials tallied nearly 2 million votes from all the state's precincts, 56 percent of voters opposed Initiative 1631 — the Carbon Emissions Fee Measure — which makes it exceedingly unlikely the law will pass.  If it did pass, the fee would have raised an estimated $2.3 billion in its first five years by leveling a fee on the state's largest carbon emitters. The defeated proposition faced unprecedented financial opposition from Big Oil, which organized a formidable campaign sponsored by the Western States Petroleum Association, an influential petroleum trade group. The measure would have put "a price on pollution and invests revenue in solutions," Becky Kelley, president of the Washington Environmental Council who helped draft the initiative, said in an interview. "It often gets called a tax, but it is a different tool and we chose that tool on purpose," said Kelley. Who's endorsed #YesOn1631? @BernieSanders, @BillGates, @NaomiAKlein, @billmckibben, @DoloresHuerta, @PearlJam, @VanJones68, @macklemore, @jeremyjones, @Janefonda, @LeoDiCaprio, @MarkRuffalo, @PramilaJayapal, @JayInslee and so many others! Vote Yes on 1631 by 8pm tonight! #WAelex pic.twitter.com/hbVvHWyvNI — Yeson1631 (@yeson1631) November 6, 2018 Specifically, 1631 would have charged oil and gas companies for the carbon content of fossils fuels sold or used in Washington.  In turn, the fees would create a sizeable fund to construct clean-energy infrastructure and public transit, while also mitigating the consequences of extreme weather events like droughts and wildfires exacerbated by global warming. Yet, the the "No on 1631" campaign, sponsored by the Big Oil, was able to blanket the state in oppositional advertisements. The group received $31 million in contributions, largely from oil companies. British Petroleum and Phillips 66 led the way, contributing around $13 million and $7 million, respectively.  "The existential threat to their business model is [that] we are going to invest in building out cleaner alternatives so we don’t have to buy their dirty product," Kelley said before the votes were counted.  "I think that's what they’re most afraid of."   SEE ALSO: Earth’s carbon dioxide levels are likely the highest they've been in 15 million years Meanwhile, the campaign in support of 1631 also received significant infusions of $15 million, though just half that of the petroleum-led campaign.  "The stakes are very high for everybody," Aseem Prakash, a political science professor and director of the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington, said in an interview.   But voters, especially in rural areas, generally dislike the idea of fees and taxes.  Indeed, the fee is on large oil companies, but there's understandable concern that costs will be passed down to the consumer paying for electricity or filling up their tanks. That could mean an estimated 13 more cents per gallon of gasoline at the pump, according to a study funded by the Western States Petroleum Association. "The word tax scares people," said Prakash. But, although some make the reasonable argument that a fee is a form of tax, this carbon fee would have worked differently than a typical sales or income tax. The tax wouldn't go into the general state coffers. A smoky haze from wildfires blanketed Seattle in August 2018.Image: Elaine Thompson/AP/REX/Shutterstock"With the fee, the money can only be used for the purposes it was intended," Nives Dolsak, a professor and associate director at the University of Washington's School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, said in an interview. "You have to use it for carbon mitigation and adaptation." The fee wasn't intended it to last forever. Just until Washington met its ambitious clean-energy goals, which is to reduce overall emissions of greenhouse gases in the state to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 — and continue the trend thereafter.  "The point of the exercise is not to punish anyone — in the long run no one will have to pay a fee," said Kelley. The carbon fee would certainly have impacted everyday people in Washington. But that's also part of the plan — 1631's supporters weren't hiding that. Emitting carbon would cost everyone, a little. "It's supposed to — that's what intended," emphasized Dolsak. "It's supposed to give clear information to all of us who make daily decisions." These daily decisions mean could mean using energy more efficiently, decreasing fossil fuel use, using mass transit when possible, and perhaps voting for candidates who support renewable energy projects.  1631 may have gone down, but it engendered widespread support, and a similar initiative may very well rise again.  A shipbuilding company, the American Lung Association, and local citizen councils signed on their support, noted Kelley. Bill Gates, Pearl Jam, and Leonardo DiCaprio were among the initiatives prominent supporters.   "The problem is not going away, and either are we," said Kelley.   WATCH: Take a look inside an eerie abandoned school near Chernobyl — Sharp Science


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'Protecting Mueller Is Paramount.' Lawmakers Respond to Jeff Sessions' Firing

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 13:22

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was talking to reporters when the news broke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ firing.


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Here Are 9 Lessons From the 2018 Midterm Elections

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 12:27

No. 1: The 2020 campaign starts today, and it's going to be crazy


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FBI Offers Reward for North Carolina Girl, 13, Abducted Before School

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 12:25

Authorities are describing Hania as a Hispanic female with black hair, brown eyes and 5 feet tall. Police said she weighs approximately 126 pounds and was last seen wearing a blue shirt with flowers and blue jeans.


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Cockatoos invent and create tools, rivalling great apes, scientists find 

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 12:00

Cockatoos are known for their intelligence, having demonstrated the ability to pick locks, match shapes and even ride miniature bicycles along a tightrope. But now scientists have discovered they are far cleverer, rivalling apes and human four-year-olds in their ability to invent and fashion complex tools to reach food. Austrian scientists have spent years testing the abilities of Goffin’s cockatoos named Dolittle, Figaro, Kiwi, Konrad, Pipin and Fini at a special laboratory in Vienna. Now they have now demonstrated the birds are capable of sizing-up the length of poking device needed to reach seeds through a hole in a perspex box, and then make it from a piece of cardboard.   Even when scientists moved the seeds closer to the hole, the cockatoos took a quick glance then designed a tool that was smaller to save effort. “The way the animals show flexibility in their tool making behaviour between different distances, suggest that they at least learn to pay attention to different conditions” said Dr Alice Auersperg, of the University of Vienna, the head of the Goffin Lab. “As longer cardboard strips required more parallel bitemarks we have an continuous increase in investment in the manufacture of longer tools and it is likely that the animals were able to save effort. “Nevertheless, as time passed they did eventually fall into a strategy of making long tools most of the time as they became more efficient or as a strategy of avoiding the risk of having to discard a tool of insufficient size. “It has been shown that parrots and crows often rival the great apes in performance in cognitive tasks and they also seem to have similar neuron counts in the cortex-like areas of their brains as higher primates.” Dolittle the cockatoo demonstrating fashioning a stick from a piece of cardboard  Credit: Bene Croy Only very few animal species such as the great apes and a few birds can use or even make their own tools to fish for out-of-reach food. Chimpanzees are known to use sticks to poke into termite mounts, while crows can bend metal hooks to reach food at the bottom of a bottle. However making different tools for different situations represents a bigger cognitive challenge. Experts think Goffin’s cockatoos have developed such abilities because they are island birds, native to Indonesia, where they feed on a variety of foods and have devised a range of strategies to get their dinner. For the new experiments researchers placed the six cockatoos near to a food platform which was positioned between 1.5 and six inches behind a plastic sheet with a small hole in the centre. They then gave the birds a large cardboard sheet. The birds changed the length of the sticks depending on how far the food was placed behind the perspex  Credit: Bene Croy Fairly quickly the birds began to use their beaks as a hole punch to create the exact length of cardboard strip they required depending on how far the food was away. They even rejected tools immediately that they deemed unsuitable after making and only needed two attempts to make stick of the correct length. Fini, one of the females, even made a thinner stick when researchers made the hole smaller. “They made significantly longer cardboard strips when a food reward was further away and shorter strips when the food was closer to a probing hole in a puzzle box” said Carina Köck, a student who conducted the study at the Goffin Lab. “If they do make tools that are not long enough to breach the distance between the food reward and the probing hole they usually discard them before even trying to insert them into the box and immediately make a longer one” she adds. “They even discard notably longer tools when the food is far away than when it is close.” Previously scientists have found they cockatoos can even pass ‘the marshmallow test’ resisting the temptation of eating a treat in front of them for a greater reward later, an example of higher reasoning. The research was published in the journal Plos One.  


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If She Wins: The First-Time Congressional Candidates Who Turned Their Districts Blue

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 11:33

A record 25 Democratic women who are heading to Congress for the first time after Tuesday night, helping Democrats take the House of Representatives even as the party lost key Senate and governors’ races.


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Boeing issues advice over sensors after Indonesia crash

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 11:33

Boeing issued a special bulletin Wednesday addressing a sensor problem flagged by Indonesian safety officials investigating the crash of a Lion Air 737 that killed 189 people last week. "The Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee has indicated that Lion Air flight 610 experienced erroneous input from one of its AOA (Angle of Attack) sensors," Boeing said.


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Old Master? Cave paintings from 40,000 years ago are world's earliest figurative art

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 11:32

A painting of an animal in an Indonesian cave dates from at least 40,000 years ago, making it the world's oldest piece of figurative art, new research has shown. The painting in Borneo, possibly depicting a native type of wild cattle, is among thousands of artworks discovered decades ago in the remote region. The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that cave painting did not emerge only in Europe, as was once thought.


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Why a Sunny Pacific Island Is Banning Sunscreen

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 11:07

The Pacific archipelago of Palau has become the first country to ban many types of sunscreen, in an effort to protect coral reefs.


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Sharice Davids to Become First Gay Native American Woman Elected to the House

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 10:46

Democrat Sharice Davids, a member of Wisconsin’s Ho-Chunk Nation tribe, defeated four-term Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder in Kansas on Tuesday


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The True Story Behind The Front Runner: How Gary Hart's Scandal Changed Politics

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 09:00

Gary Hart's fall from grace, which inspired the new Hugh Jackman movie 'The Front Runner,' marked a turning point in political journalism


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