July 28, 2014

An urban forest hiding in plain sight.     Photo: Thomas Abbs/Flickr

Trees Are Urban Superheroes

Gentle giants save more than 850 lives annually

The next time you read Outside in the shade of a leafy tree, recognize that you're in the presence of greatness. The USDA Forest Service recently discovered that trees are responsible for saving more than 850 human lives and staving off 670,000 incidents of acute respiratory systems annually.

Trees are valuable not only for what they give us—wood, oxygen, fruit—but also for what they take away. The air is full of major pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide, but through a process called deposition, pollutants that come in contact with tree leaves get "deposited" onto them or absorbed into the stomata. The more particulates that end up on or in leaves, the less concentrated they are in the air, and fewer end up in our lungs. Even with trees, about 130,000 Americans die in part because of air pollution every year.

Forest Service researchers set up computer simulations with county-level environmental data from 2010 to understand just how effective trees are at hoovering particulates across the United States. Researchers looked at the amount of tree cover in an area, plus the hourly exchange of pollutants between leaves and air and its effects on pollution removal on the atmosphere, and compared that data to the health impacts and monetary value gained from the decrease in ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and other pollutants.

The researchers concluded that the lives and lungs saved by tree-reduced air pollution—which, at 17.4 million tons, accounts for less than 1 percent of total annual air-quality improvement—equates to nearly $7 billion each year, particularly in urban areas. While deposition is greater in lusher rural areas, trees save more lives through this process in urban areas, which the researchers say underscores the importance of urban forests. 

Curious about just how many times trees kept you from missing a day of work or dying? Check out the tables in the report.

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Pakistan's K2 is the world's second-tallest mountain and plenty dangerous, but this climbing season seems to be a fortuitous one.     Photo: PatrickPoendl/Thinkstock

The Sun Shines on K2

Second-tallest mountain enjoys a potential slew of great successes

Sixty years after the first successful ascent of Pakistan's K2, a window of good weather last weekend created ideal conditions for a potentially record-setting summit day on the world's second-tallest mountain.

Though the number has yet to be confirmed, as many as 30 people may have reached the top (28,250 feet) between July 25 and 27 thanks to low winds and little snowfall. These conditions are unusual for K2, known for its erratic and harsh weather and technical difficulty: Only about 300 people have ever summited K2, compared with some 6,000 people who've summited Everest, 800 miles to the southeast.

On Sunday, three Americans, led by Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering, reached the K2 summit along with their Sherpas. "This climb is everything it is made out to be," said expedition member Alan Arnette, who at age 58 became the oldest person to climb the peak. "The traverse at the Bottleneck was one of the scariest things I've ever done in my life. It truly was a 90-degree angle."

Seven women were expected to have summited, among them the first expedition of Nepali women to climb the mountain. Pasang Lhamu, Maya Sherpa, and Dawa Yangzum were climbing to call attention to climate change.

Another expedition became the first-ever group of Pakistanis to reach the top. While individual climbers from Pakistan have summited, this was the country's first successful team attempt. 

Perhaps even more impressive is that every climber who summited appears to have made it safely back to base camp. For every four people who reach the K2 summit, one person will die trying, typically during the descent. In both 2009 and 2010, nobody successfully climbed K2.

This news comes just a few months after a tragic avalanche killed 16 Sherpas on Mount Everest, ultimately ending the mountain's 2014 climbing season.

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

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What better way to feel triumphant than on the winner's podium in front of the Arc de Triomphe?     Photo: ASO/B.Bade

Nibali Wins the Tour de France

First Italian champion in 16 years

We have a winner. Vincenzo Nibali might have placed sixth on our list, but the Italian cyclist came in first at the 2014 Tour de France on Sunday.

On the podium, the Sicilian held back tears and held onto his prized stuffed lion as the Italian national anthem played across the Champs-Elysées. “This is something unique. I never imagined it could have happened, but I fought for it day by day,” Nibali said during his podium speech. “As long ago as last winter, with my team we decided this would be the year’s objective, and without my team and my family I would never have achieved it.”

French riders Jean-Christophe Péraud and Thibaut Pinot took second and third place, respectively.

Team Astana rider Nibali, 29, is the first Italian to win the Tour since Marco Pantani in 1998. He led the race for 18 out of the 21 days. Prior to arguably the biggest win of the year, Nibali had claimed victory only in the Italian National Road Championships just prior to La Grande Boucle.

Nibali has been quietly hunting a big-time tour title since placing 19th in his Tour debut at age 22. He has shown steady improvement and has clearly perfected the art of the incisive attack, which he displayed during the Stage 2 battle royale. They call him “the shark” for a reason.

But even sharks share their victory champagne.

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Rich Froning has become one of the most famous faces of CrossFit, having won the most events of any competitor in his five years at the events.     Photo: Alicia Anthony/CrossFit Southborough

Froning Crowned CrossFit King Again

Leblanc-Bazinet wins female division

Despite a subpar performance during the second day of the 2014 CrossFit Games, favorite Rich Froning made his way back to claim the title of CrossFit Games champion for the fourth year in a row.

On the women's side, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet claimed the top spot for the first time after five years of competing in the games. They now have bragging rights as victors of what CrossFit calls the true test of fitness—this weekend's games marked the final part of the three-stage process that started in early spring and featured challenges the athletes didn't know about until right before the competition.

Froning, who says this year will be the last time he competes as an individual, encountered a few setbacks along the way. He finished 37th in the Triple 3 event, which involves rowing 3,000 meters, followed by 300 double-unders, and a three-mile run. During the run, Froning stopped to walk several times. He said he felt dizzy and had "turned into a wuss." But that didn't last, as he advanced to a five-point lead by the end of the day; he ended the games with a 50-point lead.

Leblanc-Bazinet racked up three top-10 finishes in the first five events. After finishing with a 40-point lead, she tearfully accepted her new title, crediting her success to five years of smarter training. "I attacked more of my weaknesses," she said. "I worked my ass off." Can't argue with that approach.

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Apparently nobody can keep up with this guy.     Photo: Grant Glas/Flickr

Baxter Wins SUP World Championships

Hawaii native wins third Molokai2Oahu

In the lead-up to this summer's Molokai2Oahu Paddleboard World Championships, Outside predicted that the SUP solo event would be a battle of youth versus experience, a showdown between the sport's new poster boy, Kai Lenny, and tenacious veteran Dave Kalama.

Well, we were wrong. In the end, it was their fellow Hawaiian Connor Baxter who took home the title. His time of 4:08:08 was a course record.

Lenny looked strong early on and surged ahead of his competitors. However, around the 24-mile mark of the 32-mile race, he suddenly felt like he "hit a wall," according to SUPRacer.com. That opened the door for two-time champion Baxter and Australian Travis Grant, who duked it out for miles before Baxter broke free and claimed an unprecented third title.

Dave Kalama finished in a very respectable sixth place, reaching the finish at the Maunalua Bay Beach Park bath house in 4:24:44.

On the women's side, Germany's Sonni Hönscheid claimed the championship title, proving that you don't need to hail from an island to be the best SUPer in the world.

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The U.S. Open of Surfing should be known for one thing and one thing only: surfing.     Photo: Brandon Means

Surfing Isn't Fun Anymore

Riots, threats at U.S. Open of Surfing

Surf’s up, but the hang loose attitude is down.

The 2014 Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, which began on Saturday in the surf hub of Huntington Beach, California, has had plenty of winners already. Cam Richards took top seed in the Men’s Junior Pro category with a 2.39 scoring lead, while local Kanoa Igarashi took the best combined score. On Sunday, California native Meah Collins jumped to the top of the Women’s Junior Pro competition with a heat score of 16.23 in Round 1. For the Men’s Trial, Cory Arrambide, Bino Lopes, Kai Barger, and Santiago Muniz advanced to Monday’s all-day main event. Legend Kelly Slater is scheduled to ride the waves of Heat 12.

But the sport itself has been losing out, thanks to gun threats, riots, and amped-up security detail tainting the event. The 2013 Open saw more than 20 arrests during riots that broke out on the event's last day. To avoid lawlessness this year, organizers implemented some new, not-so-carefree rules to keep beachgoers in check, such as no alcohol, no music, mandatory bag searches, and a shrunken version of the “vendor’s village.” 

Despite the precautions, there were still scares during opening events. A 16-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of threatening acts of violence after police received reports of “disturbing” social media posts. Authorities obtained a search warrant and found a shotgun and handgun in the teen’s residence, where he was arrested.

Extra precautions have been taken, but the teen told police that he was “just messing around.” “We don’t necessarily know that for sure,” Huntington Beach Police chief Robert Handy told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. “His comment or statement to the officers last night was that he didn’t mean it.”

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