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A Graphic Mapping of the Damage Caused by Sandy

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 2.22.28 PMPhoto: Spatial Information Design Lab

The Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University has built an informative and easy-to-use online graphic that shows the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy. Currently, users can view maps of the New Jersey and Long Island coasts and click on different areas to see the number of heavily damaged buildings estimated by FEMA, how the damage maps up against various socioeconomic factors, and what the affected locations look like in photos.

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Can Lake Tahoe Stay Blue—and Get Smart?

Laketahoe_map_flckr_boklmPhoto: Flickr/Boklm

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that an expansion plan for Homewood Mountain Resort on the shores of Lake Tahoe would not be allowed to move forward without further considering a scaled-back alternative with less environmental impact. The Sierra Club, which joined with a local environmental group and Earthjustice to bring the suit against the resort, is calling the decision a victory. But so is Tahoe's regional planning agency, because, it says, at least the judge did not say the environmental review was flawed.

This is the latest in a decades-long battle over how to best protect the awe-inspiring resources in the Lake Tahoe basin through thoughtful planning and management practices—something that had been absent until a 1987 plan aimed to reverse unchecked development.

On December 12, after years of roadblocks and revisions, a new regional plan framework—focused on bringing more mixed-use development into town centers around the lake and improving the area's transportation system—was approved. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), a collaborative California-Nevada agency charged with managing and improving the environmental health of the Lake Tahoe basin, is now set to begin implementation of the plan on February 11. But the Tahoe Area Sierra Club is considering erecting one more roadblock: a lawsuit to stop the plan, which it says is focused on tourism dollars rather than the lake's health.

The controversy raises a question pertinent not just to the Tahoe region but to mountain communities everywhere: What does "smart growth" look like in an alpine environment?

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World's Largest Natural Sound Archive, by the Numbers

Shutterstock_107677163What an ostrich sounds like. What an ostrich chick in an egg sounds like. Photo: Shutterstock

You might know what an ostrich sounds like because you watched that episode of Dirty Jobs, but do you know the sound an ostrich chick makes as it's trying to crack out of its egg? There's now a place online where you can find out.

On January 15, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology announced that it had converted its Macauley Library sound archive into a digital catalog that anyone can click. "Our audio collection is the largest and the oldest in the world," said Macaulay Library director Mike Webster. "Now, it’s also the most accessible."

The institution said the new digital archive will help expert and amateur birders and other naturalists train, offer video and audio editors a place to find specific sounds, and allow the library to assemble a larger collection. "Now that we’ve digitized the previously archived analog recordings, the archival team is focusing on new material from amateur and professional recordists from around the world to really, truly build the collection," said audio curator Greg Budneyaid.

Here's a bit more about the sounds that have been collected and digitized, with a selection of some of the best recordings and a look at the numbers.

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John Davis Sets Off to Hike, Paddle, and Bike the Spine of the Continent

John_Davis_CongareeNP_Susan_BaycotJohn Davis paddling in Congaree National Park. Photo: Susan Baycot

Climate change, development, ranching, and oil and gas exploration tend to get a lot of ink when it comes to threats to wildlife in the Western United States. But wildlife corridors are another vital factor, and one that relates very closely to all the aforementioned variables because they allow wildlife to adapt to changes in their environment while maintaining vital migration patterns. The movement of keystone species, such as cougars, wolves, and bears, through these corridors—or "wildways"—is vital to balancing ecosystems, as well. In fact, the study of these corridors is a fundamental aspect of conservation biology, as Mary Ellen Hannibal describes in her book The Spine of the Continent.

Unfortunately, highways tend to fragment these corridors, as roadkill makes perfectly obvious, and other demands are continually encroaching on these passageways. Conservation biologists are continually working to protect wildways and keep them open. On January 25, wilderness advocate, writer, and adventurer John Davis will set out from Sonora, Mexico, on a 10-month journey along this spine, which is linked through a number of mountain ranges, including the Rockies, from Mexico into Canada.

The goal for this project, dubbed TrekWest, is to drum up attention and improved protections for the waterways and mountain passes along the corridor. Along the way Davis will conduct a sort of moving symposium, meeting with scientists and researchers who are studying the pressures being put on wildlife corridors through development and other demands. He plans to broadcast these interactions via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and the trip is being made possible through the Wildlands Network, which Davis co-founded, and a range of other conservation groups, listed on the route map.

Long slogs and extreme weather are not foreign concepts to Davis. For his TrekEast adventure in 2011, he hiked, biked, and paddled 7,600 backcountry miles from the Florida Keys to Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula.

He says he is motivated to go on these treks both as a way of putting wildways into the national discussion but also for his own fulfillment. "I do this first and foremost because I believe in the value of nature, but also for selfish reasons," he says. "I like to recreate in wild places and I personally lose each time an acre of wildlands are lost."

"The conservation community alone isn't enough [to protect these corridors], we need to get a national consensus on this. The outdoor recreation community is absolutely vital to this," he adds. "I hope to strengthen the ties between conservation biologists and outdoor recreationalists, who should be active in trying to protect these areas. I hope that's one thing my trek will draw attention to."

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An Entangled Dolphin Approaches a Diver And Gets Help

On the night of January 11, 2013, during a dive off the Kona coast to view manta rays feeding on plankton, something strange happened. After the divers went down and lit up the water, a bottlenose dolphin slowly swam around them before aproaching diver Keller Laros and turning over. In the underwater lights meant to illuminate the manta rays, Laros saw that the dolphin's pectoral fin was entangled in fishing line. He set about cutting the line with his dive knife.

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