Whalesong Remix

Illustration by Nicholas Konrad / The New Yorker

We thank the New Yorker for this note about Sara Niksic’s whalesong remixing, as described by Matthew Hutson:

How a Marine Biologist Remixed Whalesong

Sara Niksic, a lover of whales and electronic music, has merged her passions.

In 1971, in the journal Science, two scientists, Roger S. Payne and Scott McVay, published a paper titled “Songs of Humpback Whales.” They began by noting how “during the quiet age of sail, under conditions of exceptional calm and proximity, whalers were occasionally able to hear the sounds of whales transmitted faintly through a wooden hull.” Continue reading

Huxley’s Extra Effort

A family of scientist-writers recast religion and ethics in light of evolution. Illustration by Melinda Beck

We are all fortunate that the Huxley family produced no slouches:

How the Huxleys Electrified Evolution

Defending Darwinism from both clerical and scientific opponents, T. H. Huxley and his grandson Julian shaped how we think about the past and future of our species.

Thomas Henry Huxley almost skipped the showdown of his life. It was the fourth day of the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He was tired. Continue reading

Prairie Revival

Sunrise at the Hempstead Plains on Long Island, New York. STEVE PFOST / NEWSDAY RM VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360’s Janet Martinelli:

Amid the Sprawl, a Long Island Prairie Makes a Quiet Comeback

Tucked into quintessential suburbia, the Hempstead Plains Preserve is a small sliver of the grassland that once covered a vast area of Long Island. New research shows that thoughtfully planted yards and gardens can bolster the biodiversity in such urban wildland fragments.

Volunteers remove invasive Chinese bushclover from the Hempstead Plains Preserve at Nassau Community College. FRIENDS OF HEMPSTEAD PLAINS

The Hempstead Plains Preserve is a place where you can imagine the presence of creatures past. Birdfoot violets, now gone, once colored the landscape with a wash of purple in spring. The heath hen, a large grouse that went extinct 90 years ago, performed its elaborate courtship dances on the Plains.

On a late afternoon in October, the slanting autumn sun lit up in a blaze of gold the grasses and wildflowers on this narrow, 19-acre sliver of land — almost all that is left of the tallgrass prairie that once covered more than 50 square miles at the heart of Long Island, New York, a fish-shaped island that stretches east into the Atlantic Ocean. Continue reading

Giving A Bread Its Due Honor

President Emmanuel Macron of France described the baguette as “250 grams of magic and perfection in our daily lives.” Eric Gaillard/Reuters

When the baguette was a daily part of our family’s life, we were fortunate to have a personal connection to the best guide, whose photo in the story below is as fitting as the photo above:

Steven Kaplan, perhaps the baguette’s most dedicated historian, says the bread has “little sites of memories” that “testify to a sensuality.” Daniel Janin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A Slice of France, the Baguette Is Granted World Heritage Status

More than six billion baguettes are sold every year in France. But the bread is under threat, with bakeries vanishing in rural areas.

PARIS— It is more French than, perhaps, the Eiffel Tower or the Seine. It is carried home by millions each day under arms or strapped to the back of bicycles. It is the baguette, the bread that has set the pace for life in France for decades and has become an essential part of French identity.

On Wednesday, UNESCO, the United Nations heritage agency, named the baguette something worthy of humanity’s preservation, adding it to its exalted “intangible cultural heritage” list. Continue reading

The Box Footprint

Photo illustration by Todd St. John

We have barely scratched the surface on the ecological or the social implications of online retailing’s growing share of the economy. Until now, no attention to the boxes, specifically, so today we are happy to find excellent reporting focused on that. Cardboard is an increasing part of the lives of most of us living in digital economies, so thanks to Matthew Shaer for letting us know more about it:

Where Does All the Cardboard Come From? I Had to Know.

Entire forests and enormous factories running 24/7 can barely keep up with demand. This is how the cardboard economy works.

Stacks of unprinted, uncut cardboard at the International Paper factory in Lithonia, Ga. Christopher Payne for The New York Times

Before it was the cardboard on your doorstep, it was coarse brown paper, and before it was paper, it was a river of hot pulp, and before it was a river, it was a tree. Probably a Pinus taeda, or loblolly pine, a slender conifer native to the Southeastern United States. “The wonderful thing about the loblolly,” a forester named Alex Singleton told me this spring, peering out over the fringes of a tree farm in West Georgia, “is that it grows fast and grows pretty much anywhere, including swamps” — hence the non-Latin name for the tree, which comes from an antiquated term for mud pit. “See those oaks over there?” Singleton went on. “Oaks are hardwood, with short fibers. Fine for paper. Book pages. But not fine for packaging, because for packaging, you need the long fibers. A pine will give you that. An oak won’t.”

A timber farm in Rome, Ga., that supplies I.P. Christopher Payne for The New York Times

Singleton, who is 54, with a shaved head and graying beard, has spent the past few years as a fiber-supply manager for International Paper, or I.P., a packaging concern headquartered in Memphis. Continue reading

Thwaites & Us

Probes beneath the ice could shed light on the fate of the world’s coastlines. Illustration by Owen D. Pomery

Most of us do not spend much time thinking about what is happening there, but Antarctica’s future is now very much entwined with the future of the rest of the planet.  All of us. So, thanks to David W. Brown for this travelogue:

Journey to the Doomsday Glacier

Thwaites could reshape the world’s coastlines. But how do you study one of the world’s most inaccessible places?

I first saw our icebreaker, the RV Araon, when we were due to leave for Antarctica. The largest icebreakers are more than five hundred feet long, but the Araon was only the length of a football field; I wondered how it would handle the waves of the Southern Ocean, and how it would fare against the thick sea ice that guards the last wilderness on Earth. Continue reading

Forest Health & The Ecosystem Services Provided By Mice

Dawn rises over a forest outside Orono, Me. Researchers want to understand what leads mice, voles and other small animals to bury seeds that become forests.

There really are coincidences that have nothing to do with the overreach of internet companies who see what you are reading in one place and put something in front of you instantly, and for a long time following, based on that first subject. In this case, I was reading about the endless quest for a better mousetrap, and then came upon this fascinating article about the ecosystem services that mice convey. This was as smile-inducing a juxtaposition as my reading has provided me lately. I hope I am correct that this pure chance and not some creepy algorithm, which would wilt my grin:

A deer mouse, temporarily captured for a behavioral test before being rereleased to the grounds of a study site at the University of Maine in late October.

Scientists are unearthing a quiet truth about the woods: Where trees grow, or don’t, depends in part on the quirky decisions of small mammals.

It’s easy to look at a forest and think it’s inevitable: that the trees came into being through a stately procession of seasons and seeds and soil, and will replenish themselves so long as environmental conditions allow.

Hidden from sight are the creatures whose labor makes the forest possible — the multitudes of microorganisms and invertebrates involved in maintaining that soil, and the animals responsible for delivering seeds too heavy to be wind-borne to the places where they will sprout. Continue reading

Understanding & Reviving Games From Other Places, And Times Before

Leaving aside the question of why so many of the world’s most important historical artifacts are in London, rather than where they originated, the curator in the video above is charming. And the man in the photo just below to the right is his counterpart in the place where this particular artifact originated.  My interest in board games is much less well informed, but like Mr. Mofaq I have an interest in their revival, so Deb Amlen’s article in the New York Times is appreciated:

Hoshmand Mofaq, an Iraqi artist, pondered his next move on one of the Royal Game of Ur boards he designed. Mr. Mofaq is part of a group who hope to popularize and return the game to the Iraqi people as part of their cultural heritage. Shwan Mohammed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For 4,600 years, a mysterious game slept in the dust of southern Iraq, largely forgotten. The passion of a museum curator and the hunger of young Iraqis for their cultural history may bring it back.

It is the end of a long, hot day of selling your wares in a market in ancient Mesopotamia, around 2,400 B.C., and you are looking for a way to unwind.

Netflix will not be invented for another four and a half millenniums, but as luck would have it, a pub lies ahead in the distance. A beer and a round of the Middle East’s favorite game is just the thing to pick you up. The thrill of the game is irresistible: It is impossible to predict who will win in this race to get your pieces to the end of the board, even in the last few moves.

One of the boards of the Royal Game of Ur excavated in the 1920s, on display at the British Museum. The British Museum, via Commons.wikimedia.org

You sit down across from your opponent, who offers you the first turn. You pick up the four-sided dice and shake them in your fist. Maybe this time the rumored fortunetelling aspect of the game will bless you with a spate of good luck and prosperity. Continue reading

Imposing On Pastoral Beauty To Capture Wind’s Power

Pinnacle turbines dot the skyline in Keyser, West Virginia, where, according to Andrew Cosner, a twenty-one-year-old technician, some residents remain hostile to the new wind farm: “They say it ruins the landscape and it’s ugly.”

It is to each of us whether we find the view attractive or not, and there was a time when I found large man-made structures an imposition on pastoral beauty.

Smith stands in the nacelle of one of the turbines just before daybreak.

As time passes I find myself drawn more to such a view as that in the photo above as a signal of progress.  It is not because the view is in a place far away from me– on the mountain ridge above where I live there is a row of such turbines and I am constantly gazing at that horizon. Published in the print edition of the November 28, 2022, issue of the New Yorker, with the headline “Blade Runners,” D.T. Max provides some context, but the photos do the heavy lifting:

THE BLADE RUNNERS POWERING A WIND FARM

In West Virginia, a crew of five watches over twenty-three giant turbines.

The Pinnacle wind-power plant extends for roughly four miles in the northeastern corner of West Virginia. Continue reading

Artificial Islands, Natural Grasses & Wildlife Oases In Urban Waterways

Floating wetlands along the Chicago River’s Wild Mile. DAVE BURK / SOM

Thanks to Susan Cosier and Yale e360 for this:

How Floating Wetlands Are Helping to Clean Up Urban Waters

As cities around the world look to rid their waterways of remaining pollution, researchers are installing artificial islands brimming with grasses and sedges. The islands’ surfaces attract wildlife, while the underwater plant roots absorb contaminants and support aquatic life.

Five small islands roughly the size of backyard swimming pools float next to the concrete riverbank of Bubbly Creek, a stretch of the Chicago River named for the gas that once rose to the surface after stockyards dumped animal waste and byproducts into the waterway. Continue reading