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Skiing and Snowboarding : Nature

An Amazing Visualization of Ocean Currents

The lines, curves, and whorls made by ocean currents in NASA's Perpetual Ocean video look like they were taken straight out of Vincent van Gogh's A Starry Night. All the pretty strokes came courtesy of the space agency's Scientific Visualization Studio, which took satellite data about ocean currents from June 2005 to December 2007 and turned them into an animation using software from Pixar. They wanted their visualization to be special, but artistic beauty in the style of the Dutch Post-Impressionist wasn't the goal. "I think in this case it’s sort of fair to say it was a fortuitous accident," Dr. Horace Mitchell, the center's director, told Mashable.

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A Bison Charges Children in Yellowstone—and Adults Laugh

Last week, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce posted a video of a bison charging children on its Facebook page—accompanied by a scolding:

"This video is one that makes us angry, expecially at the irresponsible person behind the camera urging the children 'to go ahead and touch him.' This group has no idea how incredibly lucky they were that no one was injured or killed. Yellowstone is an incredible place that allows us all to experience wildlife in a way that can you can no where in the world. But, it is also a place where safety rules, regarding wildlife and thermal features, are so important to follow. As a leader or parent or guide, it is your responsiblity to take the time to understand and follow them, and provide the example for others."

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A Tsunami of Plastic

Tsunami_debrisTsunami debris. Photo: Stiv Wilson

By Stiv Wilson, 5 Gyres Institute

Out across a plastic stratified strand, two surfers, silhouetted in the failing light, are finishing a session. A year and half ago, this wasn’t a surf spot. A tsunami destroyed everything around here, shifting the coast enough to create virgin waves. Above the beach there is nothing but houseless foundations and the hum of heavy machinery trying to dig out. But the tsunami had another effect, too: the world finally woke up to the everyday pollution our oceans endure as the plastic zeitgeist of convenience we seemingly can’t avoid flows unchecked from every stream, river and sewer outfall in the world.

The mission of 5 Gyres Institute, the organization I helped kick start with co-founders Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins, is to bring attention to the plight of plastic in our oceans by reinventing at-sea science research. By taking ordinary citizens, who have a vested interest in this issue, on our research excursions, we hope to inject more science into advocacy, dispel garbage patch myths and raise global awareness of the problem. By adding the cool factor of an epic and often brutal sailing adventure, we create fact-based communication tools for societal change, that traditional academia struggles to convey.

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The Cost of a Shrinking Mississippi River

Mississippi_etm_2012221Mississippi River south of Memphis, August 2011. Photo: NASA

Mississippi River south of Memphis, August 2012. Photo: NASA

A drought that has led to low water levels in the Mississippi River and its tributaries has become a costly nuisance to shipping companies and recreational rental shops in parts of the Midwest. 

The worst U.S. drought in 56 years has caused the river to flow at its lowest levels since 1988. Flooding of the river in 2011 led to an increased deposition of silt in some sections, which now require additional dredging. Shippers have been told to reduce their cargo by up to 30 percent on barges to allow the containers to float higher and decrease the chances for running aground.

An area of the river south of Memphis, Tennessee, shown in the satellite images above, is several inches below 2011 levels. The loss of just one inch in draft means a barge should carry 17 tons less cargo than it normally would, a costly reality for shippers who already have to run fewer barges at a slower pace. A paper published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in 1989 estimated that barge companies lost close to $1 billion because of low-water conditions in 1988.

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The Elwha River Is Fit, Once Again, for Kings

Chinook_swimmingChinook salmon. Photo: NWFishers/Flickr

The Elwha Dam is gone. The Glines Canyon Dam is nearly gone. With the dams no longer blocking fish from their migratory route up the river, Chinook (king) and other species of salmon and trout are returning. Salmon fry began hatching above the dams early this spring and now biologists have spotted the first adult Chinooks.

"We knew this was going to happen and as I saw the fish roll, my heart jumped!" Phil Kennedy, lead fisheries technician for the Olympic National Park, said in a statement announcing the return.

He's certainly not alone in his enthusiasm. "If Elwha River ecosystem recovery has a poster child, it is this fish," Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes wrote on September 17, 2011. "Bringing back the Elwha River kings, the most storied in Puget Sound, has been a rallying cry for advocates of dam removal for more than a generation."

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