May 22, 2014

Mt. Kangchenjunga is the third-highest mountain in the world and home to a new eight-thousander available to climbers, but an avalanche recently struck its west side.     Photo: Aaron Ostrovsky/Flickr

New Peaks, New Trouble in Nepal

104 peaks now open, but avalanche concerns abound

Good news: Nepal has just opened 104 new mountain peaks for climbing. Bad news: Three climbers are missing after another avalanche, and new climate change research says the country's glaciers are melting quickly—which could only increase avalanches in the future.

Among the new peaks available for commercial climbing are two named for New Zealand climber Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay, who were the first people to climb Everest. In fact, these peaks were named just in time for next week's 61st anniversary of their climb.

Yalung Kang (8,505 meters/27,903 feet) is also open now. The government of Nepal announced that it's seeking international recognition for this peak from the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation. The hope, of course, is to boost mountain tourism.

Meanwhile, three climbers are missing after another avalanche, this time on Mount Kangchenjunga. One climber has been identified as Chhanda Gayen, reported as the second Indian woman to climb Mount Everest and the first to summit Kangchenjunga. At the time of the avalanche late Tuesday, she was with two Sherpa guides, Dewa Wangchu and Migma Temba, according to the Times of India.

The three climbers had been close to the summit of newly opened Yalung Kang, also known as Kangchenjunga West, when the avalanche began. That was the last anyone heard from them. A helicopter search continues for these climbers, but bad weather halted today's efforts.

The long-term outlook for Nepal's avalanche concerns is not great, according to a study published this week. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) found that Himalayan glaciers have shrunk by almost a quarter over the past 30 years. It's not unusual for glaciers to shrink and grow over time, but it is unusual for Nepal's glaciers to recede at such a high rate—almost 24 miles each year.

That's very bad news locally, as loss of glacial ice means loss of freshwater reserves and a higher risk of flooding from glacial lake outbursts. It's also concerning for the future of mountaineering in Nepal: "The frequency of avalanches like the one that struck at Everest base camp last month may increase due to global warming," the report's lead author, Samjwal Bajracharya, told Reuters.

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As much as you love the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, its dam is likely responsible for environmental destruction south of the border.     Photo: Courtesy of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Colorado River Meets the Sea After 16 Years

Part of ecological revitalization project

Monica Lewinsky isn't the only 1998 throwback to recently make headlines. For the first time since that glorious year, when Harry Potter stole our hearts and Britney Spears invaded the airwaves, the Colorado River has reached its natural destination in Mexico's Sea of Cortez. 

The reunion between the river and the sea stems from an agreement, named Minute 319, between Mexico and the United States establishing a five-year restoration of the Colorado Delta, where the river flows into the Sea of Cortez. 

Before humans got in the way, the delta's nutrient-rich freshwater and the gulf's saltwater blended to create an optimal environment for many types of aquatic life, including the gulf corvina, totoaba, brown and blue shrimp, and the endangered vaquita, the world's smallest porpoise. But Americans constructed northern Arizona's Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, and since then the river has rarely reached the delta. 

El Nino weather events have brought heavy snow and rain to the Rockies that helped flood the delta, but otherwise the area has remained mostly dry. The United States and Mexico hope to change that in order to revitalize a region that once featured two million acres of flourishing wetlands.

On March 23, authorities lifted the gates of the Morelos Dam, which rests on the Arizona-Mexico border, allowing a "pulse flow" of water into the southern leg of the Colorado River. Scientists designed the pulse flow to mimic natural springtime snow melts and timed it to coincide with the germination of native trees. They didn't expect the flow to travel all the way to the gulf but are pleased it has.

Minute 319's waterflow is minute compared to how the river once flowed prior to human intervention, amounting to less than one percent of its historic volume. That's still more than has been coursing through the region over the past few decades, and nature never had science timing ice melts to optimize interaction with flora and fauna.

The agreement extends through 2017, but authorities have already discussed an extension. One can only assume these positive results will increase the chances of such a decision.

Read more Outside coverage about the Colorado River:

 

 

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That's one way to keep incubating eggs warm.     Photo: SearchNetMedia/Flickr

Man Smuggles Exotic Eggs in His Pants

Busted at Sydney airport

A Czech man has been arrested in Australia after being caught smuggling 16 exotic bird eggs inside his pants. The unnamed 39-year-old was clearing customs at the Sydney airport when he was pulled aside by officers for a random search.

"Officers conducted a frisk search of the man and allegedly found 16 small eggs concealed in his groin area," said a spokesman for Australia's Customs and Border Protection Service. The man is expected to be charged with the attempted importation of live regulated specimens without a permit. In Australia, which has some of the world's strictest quarantine laws due to its fragile ecosystem, a conviction could result in 10 years in prison and $160,000 in fines.

He will appear in court on Tuesday to face the charges.

Meanwhile, the eggs, their origin still a mystery, are being examined by veterinarians and wildlife officials from the Federal Department of Agriculture, who will find the best possible home for them. Regardless of their final destination, we can agree that anywhere is better than in the pants of a smuggler.

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Fracking: noun \ˈfra-kiŋ\ the injection of fluid into shale beds at high pressure in order to free up petroleum resources (such as oil or natural gas).     Photo: Devonyu/ThinkStock

Fracking Now Officially a Word

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary

Fracking, noun, "the injection of fluid into shale beds at high pressure in order to free up petroleum resources (such as oil or natural gas)," made it into the annals of proper language along with 149 other words that were added to Merriam-Webster's online and Collegiate dictionaries.

"One of the most important things we have to watch is the trendiness of language, so we don't want to put a word in that will then have to come out," editor Peter Sokolowski told the Associated Press. "We want to make sure a word is here to stay."

According to the AP, three to four senior editors ultimately decide which words get their big break.

Although fracking, formally "hydraulic fracturing," has been a practice since at least the 1860s, the word first made an impact on popular culture between 2003 and 2006, thanks to increased Midwestern drilling activity and decreased regulation.

As we mull the meaning of fracking's acceptance into mainstream language, there are some silver linings: while M-W was finally forced to recognize colloquial buzzwords such as selfie, tweep, and hashtag, the dictionary's team also affirmed the legitimacy of cap-and-trade, a means of limiting carbon emissions, and—in a pretty progressive move for the dictionary—freegan, or living sustainably.

"[Freegan's] a young word, from 2006," Sokolowski said. "It's one of the youngest in this list. This kind of environmentalism was a Lone Ranger type of activity before but has taken off."

More Outside Coverage of Fracking:

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The leaf-tailed gecko (Saltuarius eximius) hides on rocks in the rainforests of eastern Australia.     Photo: SUNY-ESF

Top 10 New Species Announced

Selected from more than 18,000

Scientists from the International Institute for Species Exploration at SUNY just announced the top 10 species discovered during the past year.

A committee of taxonomists and experts from around the globe selected the winners from among the approximately 18,000 new species named during the past year. Scientists believe 10 million more species are yet to be discovered.

"One of the most inspiring facts about the top 10 species of 2014 is that not all of the 'big' species are already known or documented," said Dr. Antonio Valdecasas, a biologist and research zoologist with Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain. "One species of mammal and one tree species confirm that the species waiting to be discovered are not only on the microscopic scale."

And so, without further ado, here are the winners:

Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina).   Photo: SUNY-ESF

1. The olinguito (above), a tree-dwelling carnivore found in Ecuador. 

2. Kaweesak's dragon tree, aka Mother of Dragons, wields sword-shaped leaves with white edges and creamy flowers with bright orange filaments. The tree is found in the limestone mountains of Thailand's Loei and Lop Buri provinces.

3. The Andrill anemone was discovered by the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program (ANDRILL) team on the Ross Ice Shelf. This new species of sea anemone is the first of its kind found living in ice.

4. Divers found the translucent skeleton shrimp—the tiniest in its genus—in a cave on Santa Catalina in Southern California.

—tiniest see-through  

5. Orange Penicillium, called the "new fungus among us" by EurekAlert, was named for the His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange, Netherlands.

Leaf-tailed gecko.   Photo: SUNY-ESF

6. The leaf-tailed gecko (above) uses its wide tail to further camouflage itself on rocks in the Melville Range of eastern Australia.

7. Amoeboid protist, a carnivorous, single-cell organism from the Mediterranean Sea floor, was found feeding on invertebrates in caves where carnivorous sponges were first discovered.

8. Clean room microbes sound nice enough. Nope. This microbial species is found in rooms where spacecraft are assembled and could potentially contaminate other planets. They can tolerate extreme dryness, wide ranges of pH, and exposure to UV light and hydrogen peroxide.

9. Tinkerbella nana—yes, that's Latin for Tinkerbell fairfyfly—found in secondary growth forest in Costa Rica, has been dubbed the "fairyfly" for its place among the world's smallest known insects (0.00984 inches). 

Domed land snail (zospeum tholussum).   Photo: SUNY-ESF

10. And the ghostly domed land snail (above). Pretty sweet, huh?

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