Advances In Animal Migration Studies

Illustration by Shyama Golden

Sonia Shah, a science journalist and author of “The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move,” has provided a great summary of recent developments on the study of animal migration:

Animal Planet

An ambitious new system will track scores of species from space — shedding light, scientists hope, on the lingering mysteries of animal movement.

‘‘I’m going to do a set of coos,” Calandra Stanley whispered into the radio. The Georgetown ornithologist and her team had been hunting cuckoos, in an oak-and-hickory forest on the edge of a Southern Illinois cornfield, for weeks. Droplets of yesterday’s rain slid off the leaves above to those below in a steady drip. In the distance, bullfrogs croaked from a shallow lake, where locals go ice fishing in winter. Continue reading

Big City, Green Arteries

The redesigned Champs-Élysées extends (top right) from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, as envisioned by architects at PCA-Stream. PCA-STREAM

Anne Hidalgo has been featured in our pages several times for greening her city, and now this:

Paris mayor pushes ahead with plan to give Champs-Élysées a $305 million green makeover

paris-champs-elysees-vision.jpg

An artist’s impression of the redesigned Arc de Triomphe, at the end of Paris’ iconic Champs-Élysées avenue, prepared by architects PCA-Stream under commission by the Paris mayor’s office. PCA-STREAM

Paris — Mayor Anne Hidalgo has confirmed that ambitious plans to transform Paris’ Champs-Élysées, the iconic avenue in the heart of the French capital, are still on the table. Her initiative will see the avenue with fewer car lanes, more room for pedestrians and much more greenery.

Often dubbed “the most beautiful avenue in the world,” the Champs-Élysées has gone three decades without a major overhaul, and many Parisians believe it looks tired and a lot less sophisticated than it used to. Continue reading

Migration Modeling Magic

Prothonotary Warbler by Jillian Ditner; Coastal black mangrove photo by Nick Bayly.

Thanks to the Lab of Ornithology for this:

Where Do Migrants Go in Winter? New Models Provide Exquisite Detail

By Gustave Axelson; Illustrations by Jillian Ditner

Part of the magic of migratory birds is their annual disappearing act—one autumn day there might be an oriole in a treetop, and the next day it’s gone, not to be seen again until spring.

Back in the 17th century, scientists had lots of ideas about where birds go during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, including one theory that they migrate to the moon. Today we know Neotropical migratory birds are intercontinental travelers, chasing summer as they leave the North for the warmer weather and longer days of the New World tropics. Continue reading

Awesome Scientific Knowhow

toad

If you can suspend judgement for a moment the awe is overwhelming:

CRISPR and the Splice
to Survive

New gene-editing technology could be used to save species from extinction—or to eliminate them.

Odin, in Norse mythology, is an extremely powerful god who’s also a trickster. He has only one eye, having sacrificed the other for wisdom. Among his many talents, he can wake the dead, calm storms, cure the sick, and blind his enemies. Not infrequently, he transforms himself into an animal; as a snake, he acquires the gift of poetry, which he transfers to people, inadvertently.

The Odin, in Oakland, California, is a company that sells genetic-engineering kits. The company’s founder, Josiah Zayner, sports a side-swept undercut, multiple piercings, and a tattoo that urges: “Create Something Beautiful.” He holds a Ph.D. in biophysics and is a well-known provocateur. Continue reading

Anne Samat At Asia Society

Anne Samat, Follow Your Heart Wholeheartedly, 2020. Rattan sticks, yarn, rakes, washers, plastic swords, toy soldiers, beads, metal and plastic ornaments. Left: H. 98 x W. 48 x D. 7 in. (249 x 122 x 17.8 cm). Center: H. 131 1/2 x W. 141 3/4 x D. 11 3/4 in. (334 x 360 x 30 cm). Right: H. 105 x W. 48 x D. 7 in. (266.7 x 122 x 17.8 cm). Front: H. 84 1/4 x W. 26 3/4 x D. 12 3/16 in. (214 x 67 x 31 cm). Courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist. Photograph courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist. This work was commissioned by Asia Society Museum, New York, for the inaugural Asia Society Triennial: We Do Not Dream Alone. Location: Asia Society Museum

If you are out and about in New York City, this may be for you:

Anne Samat is a contemporary artist from Malaysia who works with fiber and weaving techniques from archipelagic Southeast Asia. Continue reading

Aerial Views Of Progress

SOURCE IMAGERY © MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES – WESTMINSTER, COLORADO

Thanks to Yale e360 for a bit of visual perspective on human interventions–efforts to improve landscapes and energy-harnessing:

Overview: Transforming Land and Sea for a More Sustainable World

Aerial photos often document the destruction of the natural world. But these striking satellite images show how countries are beginning to respond to the global environmental crisis by restoring ecosystems, expanding renewable energy, and building climate resiliency infrastructure.

SOURCE IMAGERY © MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES – WESTMINSTER, COLORADO

As the global population nears 8 billion, the human footprint can be seen in almost every corner of the Earth. Logging roads cut deep into the Amazon rainforest. Plastics swirl in remote parts of the ocean. The world’s largest gold mine is carved out of the mountains of Indonesia.

Satellite and aerial images have captured much of this destruction, often in startling and unsettling images. But a new collection of photos offers a different view: Images of places where efforts are underway to slow or even reverse the damage we have done to the planet — Continue reading

Reprieve For Alaskan Nature

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump administration has held the first oil lease sale in the refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks to all those who protested the lease sale in the first place, and to National Public Radio (USA) for providing the welcome news that the protests had their intended effect:

Major Oil Companies Take A Pass On Controversial Lease Sale In Arctic Refuge

Rep. Deb Haaland at a 2018 rally in Washington, D.C., to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Haaland to lead the Department of the Interior. Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media

One of the Trump administration’s biggest environmental rollbacks suffered a stunning setback Wednesday, as a decades-long push to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ended with a lease sale that attracted just three bidders — one of which was the state of Alaska itself.

Alaska’s state-owned economic development corporation was the only bidder on nine of the parcels offered for lease in the northernmost swath of the refuge, known as the coastal plain. Two small companies also each picked up a single parcel.

Half of the offered leases drew no bids at all. Continue reading

A Moment With A Rare Bird

A painted bunting in Florida. Painted buntings are about 5in in length, dine on seeds and insects and prefer to construct nests in dense foliage. Photograph: Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

If we had been close by, no doubt we would try to see it:

Hundreds flock to Maryland park to view ‘exceptional’ rare bird

Birders headed to Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park to view brightly coloured painted bunting Continue reading

Great American Rail-Trail

The U.S. Is Building a Bike Trail That Runs Coast-to-Coast Across 12 States

Lehigh Gorge State Park with River and cyclist on Lehigh Gorge Rail Trail path, Poconos Mountains, near Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Jumping Rocks / Universal Images Group / Getty ImagesBy Natalie Marchant

Thanks to Natalie Marchant for this news posted on EcoWatch:

The U.S. Is Building a Bike Trail That Runs Coast-to-Coast Across 12 States

The Great American Rail-Trail will be almost 6,000km when complete, and will serve 50 million people within 80km of the route. Continue reading

Natural Corks Perform Ecosystem Services

Thanks to Sarah Kennedy and ChavoBart Digital Media for this story at Yale Climate Connections:

The surprising link between wine corks and climate change

Give a toast to cork forests, which store a great deal of carbon pollution.

If you open a bottle of champagne or wine this New Year’s Eve, take a look at the stopper.

In recent years, plastic stoppers and screw tops have come on the market as alternatives to natural cork, but cork can be better for the climate.

Cork is harvested in the Mediterranean from the bark of cork oak trees. The process does not harm the tree, and the bark regrows. But the first harvest cannot begin until the tree is about 25 years old. Continue reading

2021, Renewable Energy Race Heats Up

General Electric’s Haliade-X wind turbine at Rotterdam Harbor in the Netherlands. Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

Stanley Reed has been our go-to expert on turbines for a few years. The photos and illustrations are particularly helpful to understand the scale of these new models. Thanks to the New York Times for giving him prime space on the front page on the first day of the new year for this story:

A Monster Wind Turbine Is Upending an Industry

G.E.’s giant machine, which can light up a small town, is stoking a renewable-energy arms race.

Twirling above a strip of land at the mouth of Rotterdam’s harbor is a wind turbine so large it is difficult to photograph. The turning diameter of its rotor is longer than two American football fields end to end. Later models will be taller than any building on the mainland of Western Europe. Continue reading

2020, Year Of Puzzles

The math teacher at the center of “Miyamoto and the Machine” believes that a well-crafted puzzle can tell a story in numbers.

A poetic closure to a year of challenges, this film looks at one man’s quest to conquer the world with elegant presentation of numbers-as-stories:

The Puzzle Inventor Who Makes Math Beautiful

By

, and 

An elementary-school math teacher silently paces his classroom in a pin-striped stockbroker shirt, his mouth full of braces. Continue reading

Late 2020 Happy Whale News

Researchers said that the blue whale song that crackled through the team’s underwater recordings was unlike any they had heard. Robert Baldwin/Environment Society of Oman

Thanks to Katherine J. Wu for this, especially for sharing the recordings of the whale song, and the musical reference for how to think about the difference between this whale population’s song and the that of other whale populations:

A New Population of Blue Whales Was Discovered Hiding in the Indian Ocean

The whales in the group seem to sing a unique song.

Weighing up to 380,000 pounds and stretching some 100 feet long, the blue whale — the largest creature to have ever lived on Earth — might at first seem difficult for human eyes and ears to miss.

But a previously unknown population of the leviathans has long been lurking in the Indian Ocean, leaving scientists none the wiser, new research suggests. Continue reading

Scientific Backstory On A Holiday Tradition’s Key Material

A recent analysis challenges the hypothesis that songbirds helped with a vital step in mistletoe evolution, the move from the ground to the treetops. Fabrice Cahez/Nature Picture Library/Alamy

Cara Giaimo, as ever providing surprising explanations of natural phenomena, has this biology lesson for a holiday tradition:

How Did Mistletoe Get Into the Treetops?

Before someone hung it up in your home, some animal had to get it into the canopies where it thrives to this day.

It’s unclear what trendsetter first hung up mistletoe. Some blame the ancient Greeks, who kissed under the plants during harvest festivals. Others pin it on first-century druids, who might have decorated their homes with them for good luck. Continue reading

Baseball Analogizing Blackrock

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, continues to behave as if the corporations rapidly destroying the planet are normal players.Photograph by Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Bill McKibben’s weekly newsletter gives us reason to take a closer look beyond the hype about one of the most influential investment firms in the world. He uses baseball to raise concern in a way that is clear, if you know a little about the sport:

Can Wall Street’s Heaviest Hitter Step Up to the Plate on Climate Change?

The year is coming to an end, and all eyes are trained on D.C., as Joe Biden prepares to helm a venerable enterprise with a four-trillion-dollar budget. On the climate front, Biden’s team, which he announced last week, with Gina McCarthy, Deb Haaland, Jennifer Granholm, and John Kerry at the forefront, seems highly credible—a hundred-and-eighty-degree shift from the coterie of coal lobbyists and oil-industry operatives that have decorated the current Administration. Biden’s group has a real shot at getting Washington squarely in the global-warming fight. But, although that federal effort will doubtless occupy much of our attention in the year ahead, let’s close out 2020 by examining the de-facto government based on Wall Street. Its obvious head is BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which is—just for purposes of scale—an eight-trillion-dollar enterprise, and the largest shareholder in almost every company that matters to the future of the Earth. BlackRock is a monetary heavy hitter.

To continue the baseball analogy, BlackRock finally stepped up to the climate plate this year. Larry Fink, the C.E.O., focussed his annual letter to investors on global warming, promising that henceforth sustainability would be at the heart of investment decisions. For that stand, Fink was recently named the first Institutional Investor of the Year—by Institutional Investor magazine. This encomium seems a little like awarding the season’s M.V.P. during spring training, simply because an intrepid player announces his plan to bat .400. In point of fact, BlackRock mostly whiffed on climate last year: the activist group Majority Action reports that, during proxy season, when BlackRock’s votes would have made a real difference, the firm voted to elect ninety-nine per cent of the directors proposed for boards at energy companies and utilities, even if the companies had made no serious climate commitments. The group also highlights that BlackRock supported just three of thirty-six “climate-critical resolutions” put to shareholders at S. & P. 500 companies—resolutions that might have curbed JPMorgan Chase’s lending to the fossil-fuel industry, or Duke Energy’s lobbying efforts. In half these cases, if BlackRock and its smaller competitor Vanguard had voted with the planet in mind, the resolutions would have passed. Fink didn’t bat .400, in other words—he batted below .100. Continue reading

Checking Your Decision-Making On Climate Criteria

Illustration by Ka Young Lee

We missed this useful brief exercise when it was first published a few months ago. Our thanks to Veronica Penney for the quiz and the scientific study it was based upon:

Think You’re Making Good Climate Choices? Take This Mini-Quiz

If you take an airplane trip, can you make up for the planet-warming emissions from that flight by doing things like driving less and turning off the lights in your house? Continue reading

Bubble Wrap & Our Future

It is not light reading. Nor short. But before you order anything else on Amazon you might want to at least skim this report:

Executive Summary

Amazon has a plastic problem. Oceana analyzed e-commerce and packaging market data1 as well as a recent scientific report, published in Science about predicted growth in plastic waste, that projects plastic pollution of aquatic ecosystems by country2 and found that Amazon has a large and rapidly growing plastic pollution footprint. Continue reading

You Can’t Have Your Crabcake And Eat It Too

Pot of red gold … Norway exported nearly $9m worth of king crab in October alone. Photograph: Cultura Travel/Philip Lee Harvey/Getty

Invasive species sometimes lead to creative opportunities, but rarely without some tradeoffs:

Crab-22: how Norway’s fisheries got rich – but on an invasive species

Known locally as ‘Stalin’s Red Army’, an invasion of king crabs from Russia created a lucrative industry, and difficult choices

Bugøynes

Fishermen in Bugøynes were struggling before the crabs marched in from Russia. Photograph: Nadia Isakova/Alamy

The Norwegian fishing village of Bugøynes, 310 miles north of the Arctic Circle and a frigid, dark place for much of the year, was on the edge of ruin.

Work was scarce. Years of overfishing and mismanagement had stymied cod quotas. Boats lay idle in cold waters. Those who chose to stay were forced to rely on what meagre wages they could still muster from fishing and processing. Continue reading

The Count Is On

Anna’s Hummingbird. Photo: Matthew Olson/Audubon Photography Awards

This time of the year we always save some time for the census, and not surprisingly 2020 necessitates some adaptation to methodology:

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count Will Look Very Different This Year

While some local counts may be cancelled due to regional COVID-19 rules, many community scientists across the hemisphere will carry on one of the longest-running wildlife censuses in a socially distanced fashion.

NEW YORK — For the 121st year, the National Audubon Society is organizing the annual Audubon CBC. Between December 14 and January 5, tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers will participate in counts across the Western Hemisphere all while abiding by Audubon’s COVID-19 guidelines. Continue reading