August 11, 2014

The hills might have eyes, but the forests have ears.     Photo: Courtesy of Rainforest Connection

Save the Rainforest with Your Old Cell

Phones detect sounds of illegal logging

People typically replace their cellphones once every 22 months, landfilling around 150 million obsolete models that become e-waste containing life-threatening levels of toxicity. Thanks to a new grassroots organization, however, old cellphones are redeeming themselves by saving a valuable resource: rainforests.

Rainforest Connection, which was funded in surplus through Kickstarter at the end of July, installs donated smartphones into solar-powered modules to repurpose them as discreet listening devices.

Placed high up in the trees, the devices can pick out the chainsaw screeches of illegal logging and send the noise and accompanying location data to the cloud. This way, authorities discover logging as it happens and can dispatch units to stop it before too many trees are felled. Logging has destroyed about 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest over the past 40 years, and Interpol's Project Leaf study found that between 50 percent and 90 percent of all logging is illegal. Each device can detect chainsaw noise within two-thirds of a mile of forest.

Beyond stemming the disappearance of rainforests worldwide, stopping loggers in their tracks can help control climate change. Forests act as a carbon sink for the greenhouse gas emissions pumped into the atmosphere, but according to the World Wildlife Fund, up to 20 percent of emissions can be traced directly to deforestation. If that weren't enough, projects such as Rainforest Connection can help protect the 80 percent of species that live in forests; rainforests make up 2 percent of the Earth's surface but are home to 50 percent of its species.

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Mars, as viewed from Google Earth. Now it's as easy to explore our neighboring planets as it is to see satellite images of your hometown.     Photo: Google

Explore the Cosmos with Google

Google Earth expands to the Moon and Mars

Google couldn't celebrate Curiosity's second anniversary on Mars (in Earth years) with just a doodle. Instead, the California-based gods of the Internet have released two new maps to explore using the Google Earth application—on Mars and the Moon. They were assembled using images taken by various spacecraft as well as data on each body's elevation and climate.

In typical Google fashion, the maps have been finely tuned to every last educational detail. On the Moon, select the "Apollo" view to see pins of NASA landing sites, narrated by Apollo astronauts. There are also 3D models of spacecraft that have landed on the moon and rare footage from the Apollo missions. Mars features up-to-date images of Mars downloaded directly from NASA, plus an exhaustive list of famous Martian landmarks and a tour of Mars narrated by Public Radio's Ira Flatow or Bill Nye the Science Guy. It's an astronomy nerd's dream come true and, for the rest of us, just a really cool innovation to poke around.

If Google Earth is installed on your computer, get the full 3D map experience by clicking the planet button and selecting the celestial body of your choice. We'll understand if you get a little addicted to armchair interstellar exploration.

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Would you want to leave this beautiful island? Yes, if it's sinking.     Photo: mill272/Flickr

It's Happening: Climate Change Refugees

New Zealand accepts application from Tuvalu family

New Zealand has recently accepted a refugee application from a family from the island nation of Tuvalu. The family cited climate change as one reason for relocation.

Tuvalu is a Polynesian island nation of only 10 square miles located between Hawaii and Australia. It is situated a mere six feet above sea level and is in danger of being swallowed up by the world's rising oceans.

United Press International reports that the refugee family, whose application New Zealand authorities have already accepted, had strong familial ties to the country and that climate change was only one of several factors cited on the application. Back in May, New Zealand notably refused asylum to a family from Kiribati, another Pacific Island threatened by rising water.

The International Refugee Convention still does not recognize climate change as a legitimate cause for displacement, though some have seen the Tuvalu family's acceptance as a sign that things might be about to change.

"I do see the decision as being quite significant," environmental law expert Vernon Rive told the New Zealand Herald. "But it doesn't provide an open ticket for people from all the places that are impacted by climate change. It's still a very stringent test, and it requires exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature."

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What do you do when overcrowding becomes a problem? Take to every cranny of land, air, and sea, of course.     Photo: Illumunatusds/Wikimedia Commons

Your Next House Will Float

London plans to create a floating village

If you've ever wanted to live on the water, literally, keep an eye on London's Royal Docks, where 15 acres of water might soon feature 50 custom-built residences for Londoners wanting not a waterfront, but a watertop, dream home. The multipurpose event space will also include a lido (Brit-speak for swimming pool), ice rink, restaurant, cafes, shops, and office space, according to the Royal Docks website.

London mayor Boris Johnson has championed the project to fight London's overcrowding problems. "With demand for new homes in London soaring, we need to put every scrap of available land to the best possible use," said Richard Blakeway, the city's deputy mayor for housing, land, and property in a Fast Company report.

"London's Royal Docks, historically the throbbing arteries of UK trade and commerce, present a huge opportunity which I'm determined to capitalize on," Mayor Johnson said in an official statement. "My vision is to develop a world-class international business district, creating local jobs and growth and strengthening trade between east and west."

The Guardian reports that although there are other floating settlements around the globe, the Victoria Dock floating village would be Britain's first and Europe's largest. It's already making waves.

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